Somewhere Andy Warhol is smiling a crooked smile.
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the Internet entrepreneurs perhaps best known for their associations with Facebook and Bitcoin, are the latest techies to leap into the art world. This week, the twins’ Winklevoss Capital announced an investment round in Paddle8, a New York-based art auction house known for their high-profile charity events including a recent Faberge Egg auction. Paddle8 has flirted publicly with the use of Bitcoins for art transactions in the past and is one of the more tech-savvy of the online auction houses looking for a piece of the international market. Winklevoss Capital declined to discuss the specifics of the investment but said it was their first in the art or auction arenas.
Because of more restrictive U.S. visa requirements in the wake of 9/11 and a growing appetite for Western art in emerging markets in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere, online fine art auctions have turned into a bit of a boom industry. Just last week, eBay and Sotheby’s announced plans to launch online auctions for fine arts and antiques, joining competitors like Auctionata, Artnet, and others. Although the tech industry’s moneyed class has traditionally avoided the art world in favor of showing off wealth through investment in seed projects, conspicuously exotic vacations, and real-life games of SimCity, there’s a massive appetite for fine art among the rising global rich in China, Russia, the Middle East, and other markets. Companies like Paddle8 can make healthy sums of money serving hungry art buyers who can’t or won’t travel to New York, London, Paris, or Tokyo.
The Winklevoss twins are joining a very well-connected class of investors in Paddle8. The company’s other backers include Damien Hirst, the Mellon family, and Alexander von Furstenberg. Princess Eugenie of York works for the company as well. Paddle8 CEO Aditya Julka tells Fast Company that the initial connection between the Winklevosses and his auction house was made through their mutual interest in Bitcoins.
After being introduced by an existing investor, Julka said, “we talked about how there has been so much conversation about art as an asset class, and while some people think of Bitcoin as a currency other think of it as an asset class. There’s a lot of commonality about how Bitcoin is thought of, and as we spoke with them it became clear they could be very helpful both in terms of global expansion and company building.”
By email, Tyler Winklevoss wrote to Fast Company that "The art market is global and like many global markets it currently feels the pain, inefficiencies, and high-costs of our current payment systems. Bitcoin rethinks the way we transfer value. It is borderless, frictionless, and instant and should be able to bring these qualities to art transactions just like any other transaction."
Or, as Julka puts it, “Bitcoin lets us collect payments in many countries without dealing with many of the hassles.” While the use of Bitcoin as payment in auctions isn’t currently feasible due to both the currency’s wild fluctuations and very real regulatory issues, the Winklevoss twins are in a very beneficial place to help solve those issues thanks to their prominent role in the Bitcoin community. And, needless to say, there’s a natural attraction for the art world in paying for fine art--traditionally assets which can be bought, sold, and used in a variety of ways--with the similarly unregulated Bitcoin.
Paddle8 publicly announced the investment from the Winklevoss twins shortly before the opening of their newest auction, Currency, which includes money-themed artwork from Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Banksy, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and others. For those with enough scratch to go after such pieces, you have until July 24 to do your bidding.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly specified Princess Eugenie of York's involvement with Paddle8. She is an employee, not an investor. In addition, Alex von Fursternburg is an investor in Paddle8; Paddle8's press material only lists the Diller-von Furstenberg family as investors.
[Image courtesy of Paddle8]