Throughout the final years of the last decade, we were promised that the 2020s would be the decade that saw cryptocurrencies gain mainstream acceptance. Those who already know and are familiar with the way that crypto works are disappointed it hasn’t happened already. Those who know nothing about them tend to have disregarded that prediction, believing that crypto will never be of interest to anyone outside tech-minded people on the internet. We’re only a year into the decade, and it appears the predictions were correct. Cryptocurrencies are making inroads into every aspect of society, and now they’ve even found their way into one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious auction houses. Sotheby’s will sell a work of art by Banksy later this month, and it will accept bids in crypto.
Sotheby’s is a huge, multinational company, but it’s also one that screams “old money.” It was founded in London, England, in the 18th century and deals with particularly valuable works of art. A Sotheby’s auction house is somewhere you’d expect to see large sums of money changing hands, but not in the digital form. If someone buys a painting at a Sotheby’s auction, you still tend to expect them to pay for it by check rather than bank transfer. This is an enormous leap into the future by Sotheby’s standards and one that we can probably expect other old-world institutions to take note of.
This is a sign that the acceptance of cryptocurrencies is making its way into the physical world. It conquered the digital world several years ago. You can use crypto online to pay for anything from your movie theatre tickets to your bets at an online casinos. In fact, there have been several casino websites established within the past few years that specialise in placing and paying out bets in cryptocurrency and nothing else and review sites have been in a rush to promote them. If the average gambler is now savvy enough to place bets at Bitcoin casinos then the next logical search is for bitcoin casino sister sites. It’s a strong sign that confidence in the cryptocurrency is growing among everyday people. We’re not suggesting that using casinos as a barometer for the average person in the street is a perfect comparison, but the fact that the people who run such websites have established a business need to start accepting crypto payments is telling.
Sotheby’s is already facing accusations that the move is “a stunt.” That might be true, but it’s an effective one. The sale of a Banksy artwork was already likely to be a popular bidding event and so might not have needed any additional publicity, but the decision to accept bids in Bitcoin and Ethereum has ensured that it’s got additional publicity anyway. It might be the case that the company hopes to attract higher bids than it would normally receive by allowing crypto-rich buyers access to the auction. It’s thought that there are several hundred crypto millionaires in the world, but it’s difficult to tell because of the anonymous nature of the currencies. If they’re out there, the chance to bid on a one-of-a-kind work by Banksy might persuade them to part with some of their digital cash. The piece being sold is “Love is in the Air,” and has an estimated price of between three and five million dollars. Bidding could conceivably go far higher than that, and crypto bids might be the decisive factor in making sure that they do.
It’s hard to think of the work of any other artist being as suitable for this trial as Banksy’s is. The anonymous British stencil artist and painter has been credited for “returning art to the people” with his rejection of the celebrity lifestyle and his habit of creating his work on the side of buildings instead of on canvases. Although he rarely makes public comments, he has in the past suggested that he’s uncomfortable with his work changing hands for large prices between private owners. In fact, the auctioning of any Banksy work is risky. The last time someone sold a high-profile Banksy at auction, the artist destroyed it by shredding it in front of the buyer. The stunt, which also happened at a Sotheby’s auction, was only partially successful. The print jammed halfway through the shredding process, so it was only partially destroyed. The buyer believed the incident only made it more valuable, so they went ahead with the one million dollar purchase anyway. Banksy might well attempt another stunt of that magnitude, although it’s to be assumed that Sotheby’s has done a better job of checking the frame for booby traps this time.
This is the latest development in what’s been a good year to date for cryptocurrency and for Bitcoin in particular, which topped out at over $65,000 in April and set a new record high in the process. It’s barely been a year since the currency dipped below five figures, so its performance since then has been remarkable. Its bullish performance has seen the pseudo-currency accepted by a growing number of financial firms and institutions in the United States of America, which, in turn, fuels acceptance in the wider world. Ethereum is also growing rapidly in value, having broken the three thousand dollar barrier for the first time within the past week. It has a long way to go before it’s in Bitcoin’s league, but its growth is proof that crypto is about more than just Bitcoin. The bullish market for cryptocurrency probably bodes well for Elon Musk’s beloved Dogecoin, which passed the fifty-cent mark for the first time a few days ago.
Will the winner of this historic Sotheby’s auction be a cryptocurrency buyer? Will the sale price soar past the five million dollar peak that’s currently estimated? Will Banksy then destroy the painting anyway after the sale has been agreed? We’ll find out soon enough. The auction is scheduled to go ahead on May 12th. Sotheby’s closed out last month by selling its first few NFTs, and it’s moved into May by welcoming cryptocurrency buyers. This three-hundred-year-old institution is finding new ways to remain relevant in the 21st century, and it’s breaking new ground in the world of art in the process.