Christie’s announced on Monday that it’s now investing in leading-edge technology related to the future of the art market through an internal strategic venture fund.
Christie’s Venture will focus on early stage financing for companies developing Web 3.0 and related technologies, innovations that make it easier to consume art—including digital art, and on financial technologies that make it easier to buy and sell art.
“We’re particularly interested in founders who are doing things that reduce friction in our space—whether it be buying and selling, provenance, security, or technologies that help people consume art better,” says Devang Thakkar, global head of Christie’s Ventures. “Those are the kinds of areas that we’ve identified where we can help move the needle.”
Thakkar began advising Christie’s CEO Guillame Cerutti and the executive team during the pandemic on a range of digital considerations, including web and mobile applications, trends in nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, and digital ownership.
“With the growth of that area last year, we had a front-row seat to the development and innovation that founders were bringing to us,” he says. At the time, Christie’s didn’t have a way to participate in these fledgling businesses, so Thakkar pitched the idea of a venture fund.
The vehicle’s first investment is in LayerZero Labs, which Christie’s describes as a “cross-chain interoperability company.” In other words, LayerZero is developing technology that will allow people to move assets between blockchains such as Ethereum, Solana, and Algorand.
There are more than 1,000 blockchains currently in existence and Christie’s expects consolidation in the sector will reduce the number to 20 to 30 within the next year-and-a-half. LayerZero should make it easier for individuals to move their holdings without going through several steps and paying lots of fees. It’s technology that should benefit any crypto holder, not just those who own NFT-based art, Thakkar says.
Aside from such Web 3.0 technologies, Christie’s will also invest in technology that makes it easy to consume art, whether it’s through today’s computer systems, advanced screens, or something else, he says, adding, “It’s an area of investigation for us.”
Concerning financial innovation, Christie’s, which has its own art financing division, is looking outside of traditional art lending to the selling of fractionalized shares in fine art and other innovations that make it easier to sell art.
The fund is launching at a time when cryptocurrencies have fallen sharply, taking the value of many NFTs down too. Ethereum, which is the basis for many NFTs, was down nearly 66% through Friday.
But Thakkar says this “crypto winter” actually makes it “a little more realistic to invest in this space—the fog of speculation and high-price points have tapered down a bit.” He points to Andreessen Horowitz, a US$33 billion California-based venture firm that began investing in leading-edge tech in 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis.
Christie’s Ventures is seeded from the auction house’s balance sheet and will not include other investors. Legal and financial due diligence will all be handled in house, too.
Thakkar, who has been investing in companies on his own for 10 years, worked at Microsoft for a decade and was a former executive at Artsy, and he says, he also grew up around art. This new role at Christie’s is “a perfect blend of every fabric of my being,” he says.
Credit: www.marketwatch.com /