In its relentless effort to secure the title of most crypto-forward auction house, Sotheby's will next week accept live bids in the form of the cryptocurrency ethereum (ETH) for physical works of art.
For the time being the new gimmick will apply to two works, both by Banksy, which are being sold at Sotheby's inaugural The Now Evening Auction on 17 November in New York. Here Sotheby's chairman Oliver Barker will announce bids in increments of both ETH and USD; the winning bidders will have the option of paying the hammer price for each work in fiat currency or in the three cryptocurrencies accepted by Sotheby’s: ETH, Bitcoin (BTC), and USD Coin (USDC). The buyer's premium must still be paid in fiat currency.
Love is in the Air (2006) is a classic flower thrower Banksy canvas work and comes with an estimate of $4m to $6m. Meanwhile, Trolley Hunters (2006), a unique work depicting three prehistoric men in a savannah hunting for empty shopping trolleys, will make its auction debut. Described by the auction house with little trace of irony as "an indictment against the excesses of consumerist society", it is offered at $5m-$7m. The identity of their consignors remains anonymous, although both works were purchased in 2007 from Banksy's longtime London dealer Steve Lazarides. Both are verified by the artists's authentication body Pest Control.
Banksy recently made his auction record at Sotheby's, achieving £16m (£18.5m with fees) for the famously shredded Love is in the Bin, which sold to an Asian bidder at last month's contemporary evening sale in London.
"Banksy is an artist whose work is popular with young collectors, many of whom are also crypto conversant, so there is a natural overlap in audience that we want to tap into," says Alex Branczik, chairman for Modern and contemporary art. He adds: "His work appeals to the crypto community because of a shared sense of being part of a movement that is not of the mainstream, and that anti-establishment mindset creates a connection between the two".
Previously Sotheby's became the first auction house to accept ETH as a form of payment for a physical work of art, also by Bansky. It also recently announced the launch of Sotheby's Metaverse, an online platform designed for the selling, exhibition and discussion of NFTs.
"To take the bidding process even further by announcing [bids] in ETH only shows the ways in which cryptocurrency continues to become more a part of our business," Branczik says. "With each new sale that we offer with crypto, we see increasing numbers of new bidders from that world engage with us, and we hope this will encourage even more."