The paradigm shift in the art industry that emerges from travel restrictions accelerates auction houses’ digital presence on many fronts - from virtual previews to hybrid sales. Auction houses continue to forge ahead with their digital realm.
Christie’s first foray into the non-fungible token, or NFT art with its first sale to accept cryptocurrency (Ether) in the transaction was a tremendous success. Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days was sold for a record-breaking US$69.3m to take both the art circles and financial industry by storm. Since then, different major auction houses have been swept along by the NFT wave and began offering cryptocollectibles.
The fledgling sales of different digital assets will soon be met by physical artworks. Two works by Banksy - Love is in the Air and Laugh Now Panel A, going under the hammer in the upcoming Sotheby’s New York and Phillips x Poly Hong Kong evening sales respectively will be accepting payment in Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH) cryptocurrencies.
Banksy, Love is in the Air
Sale: Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Date: May 12, 2021 | 7pm EDT
Signed on the overlap; signed and dated 06/05/05 on the stretcher
Spray paint and oil on canvas
Dimensions: 90 x 90 cm
- Lazarides Gallery, London
- Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2006
Estimate: US$3,000,000 - 5,000,000
Scheduled for May 12, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York will be the first major auction house to accept cryptocurrency for a physical artwork. Buyer of Banksy’s Love is in the Air will have the option to pay the hammer price with cryptocurrencies.
And on June 8, Phillips and Poly Auction’s collaborative 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong, will be an Asia auction debut in accepting cryptocurrencies - including the buyer’s premium.
Banksy, Laugh Now Panel A
Sale: Phillips x Poly Auction Hong Kong 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Date: June 8, 2021 | 6pm HKT
Executed in 2002
Spray paint and emulsion on dry wall
Dimensions: 178.5 x 74 cm
Estimate: HK$22,000,000 - 32,000,000 (US$2,820,000 - 4,100,000)
The bidding for both works by Banksy will be conducted in local currencies (US dollars at Sotheby’s and Hong Kong dollars at Phillips). While both auction houses will accept Bitcoin and Ether cryptocurrencies as a payment option, the winning bidder at Sotheby’s will have to settle the buyer’s premium portion in fiat.
Both the cryptocurrency transactions at Sotheby’s and Phillips will be carried out via Coinbase, meaning that bidders who wish to settle the payment in cryptocurrencies will have to possess a digital wallet registered at Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange platform in the US. The official collaboration between Coinbase and Sotheby's adds to the marketing aspects. According to a blog post on Coinbase’s website, the company will provide a “bespoke solution...and in addition will help manage price fluctuations.”
Charles Stewart (right), Sotheby’s CEO made an appearance in a CNBC interview
When asked whether Sotheby’s will be keeping cryptocurrencies on its balance sheet, Charles Stewart, Sotheby’s CEO said in an interview with CNBC that the collaboration may serve as a groundwork for the auction house and to pave the way for further adoption of cryptocurrency across Sotheby’s auctions. “We have an agreement with the consignor of the painting, so [the payment option] will ultimately be up to them. But this is part of the partnership with Coinbase, which gives us the ability to process the payment but actually that possibility as well.” he said.
The new owner of Banky’s Laugh Now Panel A, offered by Phillips, on the other hand, will have the option to pay both the hammer price and buyer’s premium with cryptocurrencies into the auction house’s wallet with Coinbase.
Love is in the Air first appeared as a stencilled graffiti in Bethlehem, Jerusalem
Quintessentially Banksy, Love is in the Air is also known as Flower Thrower. First spotted in 2013 on the West Bank Wall in Bethlehem, which stretches for more than 700km as a separation between Palestine and Israel.
Banksy’s subject adopts the archetypal pose of civic unrest, ready to hurl a projectile towards an unseen foe. Yet the British street artist replaced the object with a bunch of flowers, disarming the image as a call for change and advocacy of peace.
The bunch of flowers in the present lot is hand-painted as an even more tender counterpoint to the crispness of the stark figure. The flowers also combine the colors of the Israeli and Palestinian flags to symbolize a more peaceful future in reach.
Love is in the Air (detail)
Laugh Now Panel A (detail)
Laugh Now Panel A features another instantly recognizable motif, a forlorn monkey by Banksy and is one of his earlier works. It was initially a six-meter long spray painted mural commissioned by a nightclub in Brighton. The series and the powerful memo on the monkey’s sandwich-board that reads: “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge” have been transformed into canvas and editioned prints.
The enigmatic British artist Banksy, though identity remains a mystery, is known for creating political and social commentary in his iconic stenciled form. His works were first seen in the walls of Bristol in the southwest of England in the early 1990s, yet he has also left his mark in various cities across America, Australia, and Canada.
Girl with Balloon - Colour AP (Purple) | screenprint in colors on wove paper
Sold for £791,250 (US$1,100,954) at Christie's London, September 2020
A print edition of Morons, which was burnt in a Brooklyn park, before being sold as an NFT art on OpenSea for 228.69 ETH, or around US$380,000 at purchase
Some of Banksy’s signature works also include Girl with Balloon, and Morons. His current auction record stands at £16.8m (US$23m), set by Game Changer - his tribute to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) medical staff during the pandemic. The artist's works are highly sought-after in both the East and the West. With both of his works on offer in the upcoming sales carry similar presale estimates, the results achieved will serve as indicators in both markets and a testament to whether or not the acceptance of cryptocurrencies is ready to go mainstream in the industry.