Auction houses hedge bets on the cryptocurrency craze

·2-min read
"Untitled" by Keith Haring goes under the hammer June 30 at Christie's.

Crypto is the shape of the future for Christie's and co. In fact, more and more auction houses are accepting cryptocurrencies in the sale of certain physical artworks, as they seek to curry favor with new buyers who have amassed fortunes thanks to the digital currency boom.

Christie's chose a painting created at the dawn of the digital age to offer buyers the opportunity to pay with cryptocurrency. Indeed, Keith Haring's "Untitled" is among the first pictorial representations of a computer. The painting was created in 1984, a pivotal year, in which Apple was revolutionizing IT by launching its new computer, the Macintosh.

Originally owned by the renowned German gallerist Paul Maenz, "Untitled" is estimated to fetch between £3.9 million and £4.5 million ($5.5 million and $6.4 million). It will go under the hammer June 30, as part of a series of sales broadcast live from London and Paris. On this occasion, Christie's will allow the highest bidder to pay the final purchase price, including the buyer's premium, in cryptocurrency.

"Christie's has been pioneering the sale of digital artworks and use of cryptocurrencies throughout 2021. It is fitting that we are set to become the first auction house in Europe to offer the option to pay the final purchase price in cryptocurrency via the sale of Keith Haring's Untitled, which anticipated the digital era as early as 1984," said Katharine Arnold, co-head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's Europe.

Auction houses are after a slice of the crypto action

For its part, Phillips turned to a Banksy painting to woo bitcoin millionaires in Asia. For the first time in its history, the auction house accepted two cryptocurrencies -- bitcoin and ether -- as part of its recent "20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale" in Hong Kong. "Laugh Now Panel A," by the British street artist, went for HK$24.5 million ($3.2 million) on June 8, narrowly exceeding its low estimate of HK$22 million ($2.8 million).

"Over the past few years many have made fortunes in cryptocurrency and so it was only a matter of time before cryptocurrency starts to be used as a payment method for art and other collectibles," chairman of Phillips Asia, Jonathan Crockett, told the South China Morning Post.

Phillips' choice to accept cryptocurrency follows Sotheby's decision in May, when Patrick Drahi's auction house announced that it would accept payment in bitcoin and ether for Banksy's "Love is in the Air." The work sold for $12.9 million, far exceeding its high estimate of $5 million. Sotheby's did not disclose, however, whether the buyer chose to use cryptocurrency to complete the transaction.

Caroline Drzewinski