In the latest example of crypto-creep in the mainstream art market, Sotheby's will accept cryptocurrency as payment for a physical work of art for the first time this month—for Banksy's protest image Love is in the Air (2005) in its Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 12 May in New York.
The work is estimated at $3m to $5m and the buyer will be able to pay the hammer price in either Bitcoin (BTC) or Ether (ETH) via the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase—but all fees will have to be paid in fiat.
Love is in the Air, an oil on canvas depicting a protestor throwing a bouquet of flowers, is illustrated in Banksy's 2005 monograph, Wall and Piece, and the street work on which it was based is the book's cover image.
As for the decision to accept cryptocurrency, Sotheby’s says it "worked with the consignor of the painting to offer this new payment option for Banksy’s Love is in the Air given the artist’s history as the preeminent disruptor of the art world paired with cryptocurrency as the leading disruptor in finance."
Sotheby’s first flirted with crypto-art in April with The Fungible Collection of NFTs by the digital artist Pak, an online sale which totalled $16.8m. In a statement, the auction house says the move to accept cryptocurrency for the Banksy painting is due to "a growing need to create more flexible sale opportunities for clients to meet them where market demand is."
Stefan Pepe, Sotheby’s chief technology officer, says: “With the growing adoption of digital art and NFTs, along with our increased focus on digital innovation, we’ve seen an increasing appetite among collectors for more seamless payment options when doing business with Sotheby’s. Leveraging the trusted exchange Coinbase is a natural progression and is in line with our dedication to enhancing our client buying experience and developing new ways to expand our client base by meeting them where they are.”
In March, Christie's set a new record for Banksy when it sold the British artist's painting Game Changer for £14.4m (£16.7m with fees) in London, with all proceeds going to charities that support the NHS.