For an Upcoming NFT Sale, Sotheby’s Is Trying Something New — and Old

The auction house doesn't usually sell via Dutch auctions

Sotheby's is trying out a Dutch auction model for an upcoming sale of NFTs.
Michael Nagle/Getty Images

When something high-end is placed for sale through a major auction house, the format is relatively traditional: bidding begins at a certain amount and gets higher and higher from there. As a recent Observer article pointed out, this is the English auction model – and it’s served Sotheby’s well over the centuries. To sell a series of NFTs by Vera Molnár, however, Sotheby’s is trying something new.

One might even say that, for this sale, they’re going Dutch. Dutch in the sense of a Dutch auction, that is — a format that begins with the highest possible price and drops from there. As ARTnews reports, the sale of Molnár’s work will use this model. Sotheby’s has more details on how this will work: bidding on each NFT will begin at 20 EFT. From there, the price will drop by 0.1 ETH every 12 seconds, eventually reaching 2 ETH.

Why is Sotheby’s breaking with tradition for this particular auction? According to ARTnews, it has to do with the company Art Blocks, who created the software behind Sotheby’s recently-announced Gen Art Program. “Collectors are very used to the process in which they purchase these type of artworks, which is the Dutch auction model that has been very successful format for Art Blocks and generative art sales,” said Michael Bouhanna of Sotheby’s in an interview with ARTnews.

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That this auction focuses on Molnár’s work suggests a bridge between digital art’s past and its present. A New York Times article from 2022 pointed to Molnár’s work creating generative art more than 50 years ago — and points to connections between her work and that of younger generations of artists.

The sale of Molnár’s Themes and Variations is set to begin on July 26 — meaning that we’re a few weeks away from seeing how this experiment with a different format for Sotheby’s will turn out.

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