Tianchu Gao is an IPilogue Writer and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
On July 18th, 2022, the world’s second-largest art auction house, Christie’s, announced the establishment of Christie’s Ventures, an investment fund that will support emerging tech companies whose products could have an impact on the art market. According to a representative, the fund is estimated to hold “several million dollars.” Some may think that it is strange that an auction house would launch a venture fund, but it is not the first time that Christie’s has made a daring venture to embrace the latest technologies in its highly exclusive art businesses. The auction house was one of the first art institutions to arrange NFT sales. The March 2021 sale of digital artist Beeple’s work, Everyday: The First 5000 Days, sold for a record-breaking price of 69.3 million. It even launched a two-day conference, Art+Tech Summit, in July 2022, which brought in leaders from both industries to discuss the role and impact of technologies in the art world.
According to the global head of Christie’s Venture, Devang Thakkar, Christie’s is looking to technologies to solve the problems that have long bedeviled the art trade, such as authenticity disputes and safe digital asset transactions.
Christie’s Ventures will focus on three areas: 1) Web 3.0 innovations such as non-fungible tokens, cryptocurrencies, blockchains, etc.; 2) art-related financial products; and 3) technologies that enable seamless consumption of art.
Christie’s Venture’s first investment supported a Canadian Web 3.0 company called LayerZero Labs. It provides a protocol that allows different blockchains to communicate and work together. The company had already raised CAD$135 million dollars in its first funding round earlier this year. It will work with Christie’s to “find new and innovative ways to create the most accessible, frictionless experience with assets indexed over multiple blockchains,” says Bryan Pellegrino, LayerZero Labs co-founder.
It is worth noting that Christie’s advancement into the venture capital market happened in the context of the recent crash in crypto and the broader selloff in tech stocks. Traditional venture capital firms are pulling back from the risky bets on startups, and the funding for startups altogether fell 23% in the second quarter compared to the first quarter. Many crypto startups are undergoing layoffs since June. In fact, Christie’s own sales of NFTs fell from $93.2 million in 2021 to less than $5 million during the first half of this year.
Despite the economic downturn, Christie’s clearly believes in the increasingly prominent role of technology in the art market. In fact, the world’s largest auction house, Sotheby’s, is also “actively investing in and acquiring early stage ventures,” though not through a formal venture-capital arm, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. Christie’s move into the venture capital space challenges the traditional image of what an auction house can do.