Auction house Christie’s launches venture capital subsidiary

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The investment outlook for tech startups may be more marbled than a Claude Monet – but Christie’s sees a way forward. He launches a branch of venture capital.

Last month, the London-based auction house announced it was launching its own in-house investment firm, Christie’s Ventures. The entity will aim to provide seed funding to start-ups whose technologies could ultimately help collectors buy and sell more art, digital or otherwise.

Christie’s move comes as the recent crypto crash and tech stock sell-off has forced traditional venture capital firms to back out of risky bets on startups. Startup funding overall fell 23% to $109 billion in the second quarter from the first three months of the year. This is the second largest quarterly funding drop in a decade, according to data firm CB Insights.

Christie’s, which has seen strong sales recently, said it plans to invest at least several million dollars in several startups in the coming weeks. The company said it has already invested an undisclosed sum in a Canadian startup, LayerZero Labs, which seeks to help people spend or move their digital assets like cryptocurrency across disparate blockchains.

Devang Thakkar, global head of the auction house’s business, said Christie’s was set to apply its expertise to find companies that could potentially solve problems that have long plagued the art trade. Thakkar said these could include technologies designed to help resolve authenticity disputes and track and catalog art owners more effectively. Other tools he is considering include those that make it possible to more securely store and sell digital assets such as art-bearing NFTs or non-fungible tokens that act as digital receipts.

Thakkar, a former executive at Microsoft and Artsy, said Christie’s plans to seek out startups that help people experience art differently. Earlier this spring, the company hired a hologram company to project images of an Edgar Degas bronze sculpture of a ballerina in two of its global showrooms in Hong Kong and San Francisco. That way, the house didn’t have to try to ship it around the world in a time of supply chain delays. The house did not invest in the business, but the Degas proved successful, selling in May for $42 million.

Christie’s $69 million sale of the artist’s digital collage Beeple in early 2021 was a wake-up call for the auction house to pay greater attention to the intersection of art and of technology, Thakkar said. He said Christie’s decided it was time to move beyond just hosting its annual Art + Tech Summit.

“Thanks to Beeple, we had a front row seat to all this cool tech and no way to accelerate it, even though our brand was often attached,” Thakkar said. “But if we believe in this technology, we need to be able to influence it and access it faster. We need boots in the field.

Of The WSJ

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