The world’s oldest auction house has officially entered the newest realm of commerce. This week, Sotheby’s is opening a replica of its London galleries in the Ethereum-powered metaverse Decentraland.
Created in 2015, Decentraland is a virtual reality blockchain platform where users create avatars to interact with one another, purchase goods and services, and create art.
“We see spaces like Decentraland as the next frontier for digital art where artists, collectors and viewers alike can engage with one another from anywhere in the world and showcase art that is fundamentally scarce and unique, but accessible to anyone for viewing,” Sotheby’s specialist Michael Bouhanna said in a statement.
Sotheby’s virtual gallery is a twin of its New Bond Street outpost, complete with five ground-level galleries—but instead of London’s tony Mayfair enclave, it is located in Decentraland’s prime art hub, known as the Voltaire Art District (map coordinates: 52,83).
A virtual version of Sotheby’s avuncular London commissionaire Hans Lomulder (who apparently is a real person who holds this title in real life?) welcomes visitors at the gallery entrance, top hat and all. The house’s commitment to authenticity is evident in the “welcome” video that features a young visitor who looks every inch the next-gen “art bro” complete with a baseball cap, sweatshirt, black joggers, and glowing neon-soled sneakers.
The house’s Decentraland debut coincides with its first ever curated NFT sale, “Natively Digital,” which is offering such early NFTs as Kevin McCoy’s Quantum (2014) alongside the work of tech-savvy artists who make make more traditional objects like Simon Denny and Justin Aversano.
The auction, online through June 10, culminates with the sale of Cryptopunk 7523, a rare alien Cryptopunk (there are only nine in existence) that sports an earring, knitted cap, and medical mask. The current bid stands at $480,000; players can watch a livestream of the sale in the virtual gallery.
“An organization of the caliber of Sotheby’s joining the Art District heralds an exciting new chapter for the virtual world,” said Sam Hamilton, Decentraland’s community and events lead.
Sotheby’s isn’t the first art institution to set up shop in the virtual sphere. Berlin’s König Galerie created an exhibition in Decentraland in March; meanwhile, the buyers of Beeple’s $69 million NFT set up their own display in another online universe called CryptoVoxels.
The initiative serves as yet another sign that Sotheby’s is firmly planting its flag in the NFT space. In April, Sotheby’s sale of open edition “Cubes” by the artist Pak netted a cool $17 million. A month earlier, the house’s CEO Charles Stewart told CNBC: “There’s a lot here that’s really exciting, and we think, has staying power.”
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