Sotheby’s accepts $12.9m in cryptocurrency for Banksy’s Love is in the Air

It is the first time the auction house took digital currency for a physical artwork

Sotheby's has teamed up with cryptocurrency platform Coinbase to accept digital assets. Courtesy Sotheby's 
Sotheby's has teamed up with cryptocurrency platform Coinbase to accept digital assets. Courtesy Sotheby's 

The auction house Sotheby’s accepted cryptocurrency as payment for a physical artwork for the first time, selling Banksy’s iconic protest painting, Love is in the Air, for $12.9 million at its contemporary art evening auction in New York on Wednesday.

“Following a 14-minute bidding battle between 4 bidders, Banksy’s iconic protest image ‘Love is in the Air’ achieves $12.9 million. The sale marks the first time cryptocurrency was accepted as a payment option for a physical artwork,” Sotheby’s said on Twitter.

The New York-based dealer, which teamed up with cryptocurrency platform Coinbase to accept digital assets, said it was open to accepting both Bitcoin and Ether – the world’s biggest digital currencies. It did not disclose which cryptocurrency was used in the sale of the Banksy artwork.

However, before the start of the auction, Sotheby’s said the majority of respondents in one of its surveys believed Ether would be the preferred mode of purchase.

“Love is in the Ether: more than 35 per cent of Twitter users believe the buyer for Banksy’s ‘Love Is In The Air’ will pay with Ethereum, followed closely by Bitcoin,” it said.

Over the years, the work of Banksy has developed a celebrity following, with many world-famous actors, athletes, musicians and fellow artists, including Damien Hirst, Justin Bieber, Serena Williams and Angelina Jolie buying his work.

Much of his artwork serves as a critique of major global issues, including terrorism, political authority and capitalism, said Sotheby’s. Banksy created a series of art pieces that are on the eight metre-high concrete separation wall in the West Bank that is more than 700 kilometres long.

Sotheby's said accepting cryptocurrency for artworks “marks an important next step” for the auction house.

Last week, it said the decision to accept cryptocurrency for physical payment follows the recent success of 'The Fungible' Collection – the sale of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) bestowing ownership of digital artworks from designer Pak. The auction house saw bids from more than 3,000 collectors, most of whom were first-time buyers with Sotheby’s.

With the growing adoption of digital art and NFTs, along with Sotheby’s increased focus on innovation, “we have seen an increasing appetite among collectors for more seamless payment options when doing business”, Stefan Pepe, Sotheby’s chief technology officer, said in a statement last week.

“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,” he added.

Updated: May 13, 2021 05:25 PM

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