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How Much Bitcoin Would You Spend on a Warhol?

A visitor studies Andy Warhol’s 'Dollar Signs' in Sotheby’s London showroom.A visitor studies Andy Warhol’s 'Dollar Signs' in Sotheby’s London showroom.
A visitor studies Andy Warhol’s 'Dollar Signs' in Sotheby’s London showroom.Photo by Mary Turner—Getty Images

When Andy’s Warhol’s Fourteen Small Electric Chairs goes up for auction on June 20, the painting won’t just entice fine art dealers and collectors. Bitcoin billionaires will no doubt tune in to watch—and maybe buy into—the world’s first-ever public auction in which winners will pay with cryptocurrency.

Would-be buyers will bid on digital certificates using cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin and Ethereum. The auction will also allow for another first: bidders can buy only a fraction of the painting. The auction will be held on blockchain platform Maecenas in partnership with Mayfair-based cryptocurrency broker Dadiani Syndicate.

“This event marks the first-ever artwork to be tokenised and to be sold using blockchain technology,” Maecenas CEO Marcelo Garcia Casil told The Independent, explaining the process through which collectors can now own only a fraction of a piece of art. “We’re making history.”

Technically, art has already been purchased outright with Bitcoin, though this may in fact be the first auction to accept cryptocurrency. In January, four paintings were bought with cryptocurrency at Art Stage Singapore.

Tokenization may not appeal to every collector. But ownership placed on blockchain, or digital ledgers that keep track of every transaction, will enable easy transfer of ownership, and of tracking blue-chip pieces on a market often littered with replicas.

Ahead of the auction, it’s an interesting moment at the intersection of fine art and high-tech financial trading. In a business plagued by counterfeits and all manner of tax evasion and fraud, blockchain digital ledgers may be the best way to track ownership and authenticity across a fragmented market, according to a new report described in the Financial Times.

Fourteen Small Electric Chairs, a 1980 painting from Warhol’s Reversal series, is currently valued by auction house Bonhams at $5.3 million, or £4 million…or about 815 Bitcoin.