Online Art Sales Enter the Bitcoin Era With BitPremier

Online Art Sales Enter the Bitcoin Era With BitPremier
Peter Beard, "Hog Ranch - Nairobi, Kenya," 1964

At BitPremier, a new site where you can buy luxury goods in exchange for the wildy hyped, decidedly controversial, digital-only currency known as bitcoin, you can buy a yacht, or a plane — or, yes, even art.

In fact, the site, which launched in early May, kicked off with two works of art for sale: a photograph by Peter Beard, one of his iconic “Orphaned Cheetahs,” and a limited edition print “Basketball Superstars” (1977) by sports artist extraordinaire LeRoy Neiman.

The Beard photograph, one of 14 items currently highlighted on the site, is going for 10,611 bitcoins (BTC). Last we checked at 11:25 yesterday morning, that was equivalent to roughly $1.1 million. The Neiman print is going for a much more modest 93.678 BTC, or roughly $9,750.00.

Of the items on the site, the cheapest is a yacht charter in NYC for 48.04 BTC ($5,000.00). The priciest is a condo at the Trump SoHo Hotel for 18,709.411 ($1,947,500.00). The Beard work, a photograph with his signature collage-work and a hand-painted edge that measures 55 x 85 inches, comes in at the second most costly item on the site, and seems wildly overpriced. (The artist's world record was broken at Christie’s in October 2012, when one of his photographic collage triptychs, “Orphan Cheetah Triptych,” measuring 50 x 98 inches, sold for $662,500.00.)

“The price seems quite high,” Nejma Beard, the artist’s wife who handles sales of his work, told ARTINFO via email. Though she didn’t have much background on this particular work, she said the Studio was “not aware” of the bitcoin-based sale.

Neither of the artworks on BitPremier have yet sold, and the site is currently focused on “accumulating inventory,” according to CEO and founder Alan Silbert. Silbert, who is also a vice president at GE Capital and is managing BitPremier, along with three partners, as a part-time gig, explained, “To-date it has been word of mouth, and art has been listed by individuals that have reached out to us.

While Silbert was aware of the record-breaking Peter Beard sale at Christie's in October, he said the site doesn’t regulate the prices. That’s up to the seller. The seller sets the price in dollars, and a plugin on the site updates the exchange rate into bitcoins several times a minute. And who handles the selection and procuring of the fine art? As long as they can verify ownership, BitPremier will take anything that “aligns with the spirit of the site,” according to Silbert, "which is luxury high end goods."

So, is there a bitcoin-based art market? The seller of the Peter Beard is a “pretty wealthy individual who lives in New York City, that is very bullish on bitcoins,” according to Silbert. “This is a way for them to diversify their assets into bitcoins. At this point, it’s a lot easier to sell a $1 million painting to get bitcoins than trying to buy a million dollars of bitcoins on an exchange.”

Buyers for these works of art with bitcoins will likely not be your average art connoisseurs. While, initially, bitcoin enthusiasm was shared almost exclusively by tech geeks, in the past nine months it has crossed over into mainstream finance with everyone from venture capitalists and speculators to people just trying to diversify their family assets getting into the game. “Now you’re hearing things like the Winklevoss twins are accumulating bitcoins,” said Silbert. “People who have $1 million in bitcoins are very bullish on the prospect of bitcoins going up.”

There’s no fee to list an item at BitPremier, and the site takes a five percent commission on the work when sold. Silbert claims there have already been some inquiries on the Beard and the Neiman, though no one has yet pulled the trigger.

While now the work on the site is so far limited to things that came word of mouth, BitPremier has been speaking to galleries and antiques dealers, including “one down South and one in Florida.”

In the universe of t-shirts, mugs, and electronics that has thus far defined the bitcoin marketplace, BitPremier stands out, for now.  “Talk to me in a year," said Silbert, "and there will probably be 50 sites like mine. But for now, we want to be the first mover in this space.”