It’s the late-1980s and the appearance of the sort of bumper bonuses that became commonplace in the noughties are just starting to come into fruition. How do you spend your annual payout? Keep the Aston Martin garages happy? Invest in a second home in the London or New York property market? Perhaps blow thousands on champagne in a Mayfair bar.
In the case of Robert Tibbles, a bond trader at UBS, the answer was to spend it on Damien Hirst artworks. By the mid-90s, Hirst was at the height of his Trainspotting-era dominance, outraging the Daily Mail by amassing an ever-larger fortune by selling various large pickled animals.
Tibbles got in relatively early, purchasing Hirst’s ‘Medicine Cabinet’ in the late 1980s when most were in the midst of the usual anti-modern art sneer about his work. Hirst produced many of these works, one of which – Lullaby Springs – sold for a hefty £9.65m in 2007. Tibbles said that he kept his on the wall of his Earls Court flat when interviewed by the Independent in 1995.
“I bought the medicine cabinet in 1988. Some of my friends were outraged. They said it was absolute rubbish. Of course, now that he is quite well known, it’s different. It’s the `Who’s it by? Oh, Van Gogh. I love it ‘ syndrome. My father told me to sell it when he became popular and prices were soaring. But I do enough buying and selling at work, thank you. Trying to sell in the art market is a nightmare. By bond standards, the market is `illiquid’ – so much prevaricating. It would take six months to get the money,” he said.
Tibbles tells us that his collection now numbers around 30 works including artists Gilbert and George, Simon Patterson, Ian Davenport, Michael Landy and Michael Craig Martin. “My Damien Hirst Medicine Cabinet from 1988 ‘Bodies’ featured in the Tate Modern show during the Olympics in the Summer of 2012. It’s a good one as it is one of the four only that he made for his degree show at Goldsmiths in 1988,” he says.
So, why bring this up now? Well, now may be an opportune time to cash in on some of these investments. After 21 years working at UBS, covering fixed income sales for investment grade bonds across London, the Nordic region and the Netherlands, Tibbles has left the Swiss bank. Neither UBS nor Tibbles responded to requests for further comment.