Sotheby’s is jumping in on the crypto craze.
The 277-year-old luxury auction house said it will accept bitcoin and ether, the digital token of the Ethereum blockchain, for payment in its auction next week of Banksy’s “Love is in The Air” masterpiece.
Sotheby’s said in a statement that it’s the first time a major auction house will accept cryptocurrency as payment for a physical piece of art.
“Fittingly, the pairing brings together the biggest disruptor in finance with one of the most notable disruptors in the art world – Banksy,” Sotheby’s wrote in a statement Tuesday.
Sotheby’s said it partnered with crypto exchange Coinbase to facilitate bidding, which is estimated at $3 million to $5 million.
The auction house began to flirt with the crypto world in March, when it announced that it would auction off a series of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, which are digital assets that represent ownership of virtual items like art and sports memorabilia.
Ownership of NFTs are recorded on a blockchain network, which supports cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether.
“It may well be that the winner of this painting pays in dollars and not crypto, but I think for us, creating the possibility for this is interesting,” Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart told CNBC. “There’s clearly a large audience interested in the NFT aesthetic and possibility there. Why wouldn’t that extend to the physical art world, as well? It will be very interesting to see.”
Bitcoin is the largest cryptocurrency in the world, according to Coinbase, with a market capitalization of nearly $1 trillion. Ether is the second largest, with a market cap of about $370 billion.
The prices of both have skyrocketed in recent months, thanks to cheerleading by big-name business leaders like Mark Cuban and Elon Musk.
The adoption of the crypto world by institutions such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and other major US companies has also pushed the prices higher. The adoption by Sotheby’s is another indicator of growing adoption of digital tokens.
But critics have slammed the run-up of crypto prices as pure speculation of digital assets that could end up being worthless.
Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger said Saturday that the rise of bitcoin is “disgusting and contrary to the interests of civilization.”
“Of course I hate the bitcoin success,” Munger, 97, said during a Q&A session at Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting. “I don’t welcome a currency that’s so useful to kidnappers and extortionists and so forth, nor do I like just shuffling out of your extra billions of billions of dollars to somebody who just invented a new financial product out of thin air.”