Unusual and Exigent ~ a Look-Back Ten Years



Nelson Saiers, City Wide Blackout

For all those who dream of turning the pages back ten years, the exhibit ‘Unusual and Exigent‘ is a reminder ~ a deep dive ~ into the 2008 financial crisis by an artist, math Ph.D. and former hedge fund manager, Nelson Saiers.

Nelson Saiers, “Alchemy: Turning $#!+ into Gold

As if we aren’t already in enough chaos, artist, Nelson Saiers takes us back in time to the events of the 2008 financial crash, to explore “many of the incredible aspects of the crisis, including its causes, victims, and even the controversial government bailouts executed to stem the crisis.”  And he would know ~ since he was a proprietary trader in 2008.

The 20-painting exhibit, 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.”  It is a deep-dive into the math and algorithms that run Wall Street, and addresses the never-ending pull of money and greed that played a major role in the crisis ~ and continue to affect society today.

“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.”

Nelson Sai Images courtesy of HG Contemporary

“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.”

Now, about the artist ~ 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.

In the end, Saiers’ hopes to encourage viewers to “reflect on these events so as to keep society informed and hopefully, help thwart repeating past mistakes.”  Unusual and Exigentwill be on view from May 17 to June 16, 2018 at HG Contemporary, 527 West 23rd Street.  Opening Reception to be held on May 17th from 6:00-9:00pm.