Christie’s to Use Blockchain Technology in the Upcoming Fall Auction

Christie’s initiated a summit focusing on the potential of using blockchain in the sector this July, drawing the auction world's attention to the application of blockchain in the art business. Last week, the leading auction house announced that it will pilot encrypted registration of art transactions on a blockchain this fall.  

Christie’s Art + Tech Summit in July

Christie’s will launch this plan in collaboration with Artory, a leading independent digital registry for the art market. The Artory blockchain registry will securely record all public information regarding the sale of each lot in the Ebsworth Collection, including title, description, final price, and date, and produce a digital certificate of the transaction for Christie’s.

After the auction, Christie’s will offer each buyer a registration card to access an encrypted record of information about their purchased artwork on the Artory Registry. Each buyer retains individual control of their personal information throughout the transaction process. The auction house also emphasises that Artory does not collect any personal information about buyers, and no personal information is recorded in their Registry or on the blockchain.

For those who are not familiar with the technology, a blockchain is a decentralized, distributed and public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers. The data is stored in cryptographic blocks that form a time-stamped and immutable chain. It is considered a reliable and trustworthy tool because the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the consensus of the network. Bitcoin is a widely-known example of this new technology.

Imagine a bank stores all its account data on a single database server. No matter how well-protected the database is, a single node in the system can be easily pinpointed, which makes it vulnerable to hacker attacks. Data stored in the database can be altered by unauthorized parties. Besides, the cost of maintaining a fault-tolerant system is very high.

Barney A. Ebsworth

Edward Hopper’s Chop Suey

We interview a Christie’s specialist on Edward Hopper’s Chop Suey

Now with blockchain, data is stored and verified in a decentralised record-keeping way. Instead of a single computer, data is saved in numerous places in the chain in which not one single entity has control over all the processing. In this case, information is kept in a secured chain which is impossible to alter. Since the information is saved in the network where records are linked using cryptography, it is therefore not affected by any hardware problems or hacker issues.

Christie's will start its blockchain collaboration with the sale of major artworks from the Barney A. Ebsworth Collection, widely recognized as the most important privately-held collection of 20th Century American Art. It is estimated to exceed US$300 million total at auction. The leading lot is Chop Suey, Edward Hopper’s singular masterpiece of American Modernism, which is expected to fetch US$70m.

Other highlights from the sale

By exploring the integration of blockchain into the art business, Christie’s can get a head start over an untapped market. The move demonstrates the auction house’s hope to establish dominance in the field and gain advantages when the market is becoming more mature.