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Christie’s tries its hand at venture capital

July 19, 2022, 11:51 AM UTC
A gallery assistant holds an artwork entitled "Souvenir de voyage" (Remembrance of a Voyage) by Belgian artist Rene Magritte during a photocall at Christie's auction house in London on June 22, 2022.
Justin Tallis—Getty Images

It all started with the Picasso of pixels. Yes, I’m talking about Beeple.

As you may recall, the digital artist from South Carolina sold a collage of his daily sketchbook as an NFT for $69.3 million at Christie’s auction house last spring—shaking both the digital and physical art worlds at both the staggering sum of cash (or Ether, that is) and the idea that individuals would flock to the auction house for such a purchase.

Needless to say, Christie’s subsequently went all-in. I mean—who would blame them after the commission on that purchase? Christie’s said in its last annual report that it had sold nearly $150 million in NFTs in 2021. It’s a private company, so it’s hard to say exactly how much revenue this pivot has generated, but it’s safe to assume it’s a lot, as the company later dedicated a Summit to NFTs and started nosing around on TikTok and Discord. Christie’s head of marketing has called the newfound focus on NFTs to be Christie’s “biggest change to date.”

So maybe it’s not altogether surprising that Christie’s is launching a venture arm—nor that its first investment was in crypto. 

Yesterday, Christie’s said it had set aside some undisclosed sum to invest in emerging tech and fintech related to the art market. The venture arm will focus its attention particularly on Web3 as well as financial products that make it easier to consume art.

Christie’s Ventures’ first investment is in LayerZero Labs, a Canadian startup that moves assets between blockchains that is backed by Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, and FTX Ventures. The crypto startup was valued at $1 billion in a Series A extension round that was announced in March, per PitchBook.

Chrstie’s venture committee is comprised of a group of executives, including Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti and COO Ben Gore. Interestingly, Christie’s has also recruited Devang Thakkar, a former Microsoft and Artsy executive and digital mortgage unicorn Better’s former Chief Product Officer, to lead the venture arm. Thakkar told the Journal yesterday that he intends to invest in companies that address authenticity disputes as well as tracking and cataloging art ownership efficiently. A Christie’s spokeswoman declined to comment on how much capital the company had set aside for the venture arm and its first investment.

With two top executives at the helm, Christie’s may struggle with a problem that plagues many corporate VCs: Moving too slowly. However, in today’s market, maybe that won’t be as much of an issue.

Whatever way you look at it, it’s an interesting time to launch a new venture initiative—with crypto lending companies falling apart and venture capitalists pulling back their pace across the industry.

See you tomorrow, 

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.


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