On Monday, the world’s largest London-based auction house said it is starting its own in-house investing firm, Christie’s Ventures. The entity will aim to supply seed funding to young companies whose technologies could ultimately help collectors buy and sell more art, digital or otherwise.
Christie’s move comes as the recent crash in crypto and the broader selloff in tech stocks have compelled traditional venture-capital firms to pull back from risky bets on startups. Funding for startups altogether fell 23%, to $109 billion, in the second quarter compared to the first three months of the year. That’s the second-largest quarterly funding drop in a decade, according to data firm CB Insights.
Christie’s, which recently reported strong sales, said it plans to invest at least several million dollars in multiple startups in the coming weeks. The company said it has already invested an undisclosed sum into one Canadian startup, LayerZero Labs, that seeks to help people spend or move their digital assets like cryptocurrency across disparate blockchains.
Devang Thakkar, global head of the auction house’s venture, said Christie’s is wading in now to apply its expertise to find companies potentially capable of solving problems that have long bedeviled the art trade. Mr. Thakkar said these could include technologies designed to help resolve authenticity disputes and track and catalog art owners more efficiently. Other tools he’s eyeing include those to more safely store and sell digital assets such as art-carrying NFTs, or nonfungible tokens that act like digital receipts.
Mr. Thakkar, a former executive at Microsoft and Artsy, said Christie’s plans to look out for 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 to two of its global showrooms in Hong Kong and San Francisco. This way, the house didn’t have to try to ship it around the world at a time of supply-chain delays.
The house hasn’t invested in the company, but the Degas proved a hit, selling in May for $42 million, over its $30 million high estimate, and resetting the artist’s record.
Christie’s said its investments will extend beyond the realm of NFT art, sales of which have shriveled lately. Christie’s own sales of NFTs fell from $93.2 million during the first half of 2021 to less than $5 million during the first half of this year.
Mr. Thakkar said traditional collectors need more tools to help them open and manage digital wallets and to protect their digital assets, including NFT art, from hackers and scammers.