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This morning the Wall Street Journal caught everyone's attention wih the statistic that algorithmic quant-fund trading dwarves hedge funds and is approaching the same volume as individual investors. With the equity market becoming machine driven, more savvy players are turning toward art viewing it as an asset to trade.
In response, if last week is anything to go by, the auction houses have begun to take on personalities that echo the very different types of firms that buy, trade and manage investments. As anyone who follows the financial pages knows, Wall Street is a varied world with firms that develop distinct cultures. Bulge-bracket banks are different from boutique advisory firms which differ from hedge funds and so on.
The art market used to be dominated by two firms that were mirror images of each other. Or, as the old joke has it, "Sotheby's were businessmen pretending to be gentlemen; Christie's were gentlemen pretending to businessmen."
A 21st Century update of that might be that Sotheby's were Americans pretending to be sophisticated Europeans; Christie's were Europeans pretending to be aggressive Americans."
Be even those caricatures no longer seem to apply. Now there are three auction houses that can put up serious works for sale. With the recent shuffling of staff and leadership, each auction house has taken on a distinct culture and personality.
Those distinct characters also map somewhat too neatly at this moment to different types of Wall Street institutions. The banking world is anything but a monolith. There are many ways to make money from financial assets. Increasingly, it would seem the same is true of cultural or tangible assets.
With that in mind, let's try a thought experiment and connect the auction houses to their financial world doppelgangers.
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