Nelson Saiers “Unusual And Exigent”

HG Contemporary

poster for Nelson Saiers  “Unusual And Exigent”

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Nelson Saiers – artist, Math Ph.D., and former hedge fund manager – is opening his new solo exhibition Unusual and Exigent. On the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 Financial Crisis, Saiers offers a deep dive into the math and algorithms that run Wall Street.

Named for the language in the pivotal section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act, Unusual and Exigent provides a social and historical discourse on Saiers’ experience as a proprietary trader in 2008. The artist explores many of the incredible aspects of the crisis, including its causes, victims, and even the controversial government bailouts executed to stem the crisis. This exhibition speaks to the never-ending pull of money and greed that played a major role in the crisis and continue to affect society today. Saiers’ mission is to encourage viewers to reflect on these events, so as to keep society informed and, hopefully, help thwart repeating past mistakes.

Saiers’ process of creating the works was multi-layered, and they include snippets of the algorithm program that helped run his hedge fund, as well as found objects, such as helicopter parts, a parachute and a used tiger zoo toy. Even the process of painting the works (which included using “homeless signs” and boxing gloves), add to Saiers’ commentary on the events of the 2008 crash.

One of the most striking pieces is a 25’ wide sculpture titled Ben Couldn’t Make An Appearance But He Left These Instead. This features two gold painted helicopter rotor blades, and tells the story of “Helicopter” Ben Bernanke, wrestling with monetary systems (from the gold standard to fiat money), hawkish and dovish policies, and crashes. The sculpture is a striking commentary on complex policies injected with the artist’s humor.

Another work, What a Mess, tells the story of JP Morgan’s purchase of Bear Stearns through a complex personification and imagined exchange between the heads of each at different moments in time. The legendary investor J.P. Morgan was known for playing the card game solitaire while contemplating different strategies and bailouts. Jimmy Cayne, the ex-CEO of Bear Stearns, notoriously and irresponsibly disappeared for meaningful portions of time to play bridge as his firm plunged towards it demise. The artist attached numerous cell phones to the painting as a reminder of the multitude of actors at play in a deal of this magnitude.

The artist also explores some of the more visible outrages that emerged as a result of the crisis. Composed of a painting and a parachute painted gold, Saiers’ Alchemy: Turning $#!+ into Gold comments on the extreme compensation and in some instances large exit packages (golden parachute) many Wall Street CEOs received leading up to 2008 crash. The painting includes a gold $1 dollar coin next to the words “heads I win tails you lose”. These elements point to the fact that executives were often handsomely rewarded whether their institutions were profitable or not. Many of these institutions were subsequently bailed out by US taxpayers. The choice to use Warren Harding’s image on the coin has several interpretations including an interesting anecdote from his life. Harding, who was president from 1920-23, paid off a personal poker debt by giving away White House china, property owned by the US taxpayer. Other elements of the piece include crossed out versions of the word “win” written in larger and larger font. This points to the never-ending pull of money and greed that played a major role in the crisis: no matter how great the win, even more was desired.

Having grown up in Ethiopia and Afghanistan, Saiers’ art is motivated by his childhood experiences surviving two wars including tanks firing outside his house in Afghanistan. Having earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at the age of 23, his art is informed by contributions to mathematics from the time of Euclid through the 20th century. His time working in the financial industry, including running a derivative hedge fund called Saiers Capital, has provided him with insight into markets and their irrational behavior, further deepening his understanding of human nature en masse. He has assimilated these formidable experiences into a lens for assessing and critiquing the human condition. Saiers not only uses mathematical theories in his work, but transforms them into something personal and mystifying. Saier’s work has been shown across the, including Harvard University’s Leverett House, The Edwardian Room at the Plaza Hotel, HG Contemporary Gallery in Chelsea, and Alcatraz Island in San Francisco.



from May 17, 2018 to June 16, 2018

Opening Reception on 2018-05-17 from 18:00 to 21:00


Nelson Saiers

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