Billionaires, blockchain, art set to collide

Lindemann is hosting a conference next week during Art Basel Miami Beach to explore how the blockchain can transform the art world

NEW YORK • Adam Lindemann tends to have pretty good timing.

He sold a group of radio stations for about US$200 million (RM830 million) just before the 2008 financial crisis, more than tripling his investment. A painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which he bought for US$4.5 million in 2004, sold for US$57.3 million two years ago.

Now, the son of late billionaire George Lindemann, who made a fortune in cable television and gas pipelines, is hosting a conference next week during Art Basel Miami Beach to explore how blockchain, his latest obsession, can transform the art world.

“Everyone is talking about blockchain, but no one really understands it,” said Lindemann, 57, referring to the technology that supports bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. “This is the right time to think about art and technology.”

His half-day event “The Art of Blockchains” took place yesterday, just as the world’s top galleries and collectors gathered for the biggest contemporary art fair in the US, with more than US$3 billion of works up for grabs.

Blockchain technology has been a hot topic in the art market because of its potential to disrupt the opaque trade, and give confidence to collectors who worry about buying fakes. Start-ups like Verisart already use it to register works and trace their provenance, verifying authenticity and ownership. Another firm, Codex, is working on an application that will allow auction bidders to pay with cryptocurrencies. Others offer fractional ownership of art through tokenised shares that minimise costs by bypassing traditional intermediaries.

Lindemann’s conference — one of at least a half-dozen blockchain-related events to be held around Art Basel — will bring together art and tech people in his orbit, including philanthropist Nicholas Berggruen. The keynote conversation will feature Lindemann and Jim McKelvey, who helped found payments firm Square Inc with Jack Dorsey.

Emmanuel Aidoo, head of distributed ledger and blockchain strategy at Credit Suisse Group AG, will discuss the business of art and technology with art dealer Marc Glimcher and Dan Long, co-founder and CEO of Artblx Inc, an art blockchain platform.

Lisa Phillips, director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, will lead a conversation about how art institutions view blockchain, with panellists including Stuart Comer, media curator at the Museum of Mo- dern Art and artists Leo Villareal and Simon Denny.

Lindemann, who owns the Venus Over Manhattan art gallery in New York, said he’s an investor in several blockchain start-ups including Artblx, which predicts the technology will upend the art world and create a new one.

“The blockchain will completely change the market,” Lindemann said. “If this works, we can see millions more participants.”

Still, there are plenty of hurdles.

A blockchain is only as trust-worthy as the data comprising it, said conference speaker Nanne Dekking, founder and CEO of Artory. “It doesn’t make information better and it should only be used in a public registry by trusted partners.”

Christie’s used the Artory Registry for its evening auction on Nov 13, when Edward Hopper’s “Chop Suey” sold for US$91.9 million to become the most expensive artwork recorded on a blockchain.

Concerns about accuracy can be eased if living artists cryptographically sign off on their works, Dekking said, creating an immutable and time-stamped record on the blockchain.

Overcoming fundamental cultural differences between the art and tech worlds will be another challenge.

“It’s a bad marriage,” said Lindemann, who will seek to bridge the divide by focusing on something both share — creativity.

The conference will address how blockchain technology can influence the art-making process. Kenny Scharf, who came to prominence as a street artist in the 1980s alongside Basquiat and Keith Haring, will be on hand creating an original work composed of more than 100 parts. — Bloomberg