Hipsterism should rank somewhere near the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once you’ve achieved the apartment, the car and the girlfriend, cultural credibility comes next. Bankers want to be hipsters. Hipsters are not always cool about this.
“When the Art Car Boot Fair started in 2003, it attracted a kind if huge extended family of all the artists taking part,” said Karen Ashton, organizer of the Art Car Boot Fair, an annual event where artists sell art and cool people hang out in London’s Brick Lane Yard, which this year takes place on Sunday June 9th. “It was the art crowd, basically, with a few fashion and design people who really liked the work.
“More recently, we’ve had a much more corporate crowd turning up,” added Ashton. “There a lot of bankers and barristers who just want to buy big name artists like Gavin Turk or Marcus Harvey at bargain prices.” [Gavin Turk and Marcus Harvey being famous British contemporary artists for those who are out of this particular loop.]
Shoreditch House is London’s ultimate hipster nest. Located in the city’s most hipsterish district (Shoreditch) it became renowned for its lack of tolerance of banker-pseudo-hipsters when it opened in 2007. Like its partner club, Soho House, Shoreditch House allegedly had an embargo on anyone from the financial services industry becoming a member (personal experience suggests this to be true, but I'm not bitter). This now seems to have been relaxed, a little: bankers are being allowed to infiltrate, selectively.
“It’s an attitude thing rather than a question of profession,” said Chad Barley, who happened to be manning Shoreditch House’s membership reception when we called. “We want people who are creative and the trouble with bankers is that they are stereotypically stuffy. But if bankers can show that they’re not stuffy and that they are creative, we’d be happy to have them.”
One way of expressing the requisite creativity for a Shoreditch House membership might be to demonstrate a passion for art-buying, suggested Barley. Another way might be to demonstrate sociability and your enthusiasm for the club, he added. If you’re a busy banker, buying art might be the more efficient of the two options.
“Art is a way for bankers to buy themselves cultural legitimacy,” said one financial services professional and avid art purchaser. “A lot of people will buy cars, but people who are both rich and intelligent will buy art too. It says you have money AND taste.”
Banking and art have long been partners. Deutsche Bank is the main sponsor of the Frieze Art Fairs in London and New York and Deutsche bankers and their clients permeate the Frieze VIP events. New York's annual Armory Show [another art event] is conspicuously lacking in corporate-level investment banking sponsors but, “certainly has a lot of financial services people in attendance,” according to communications manager Allison Rodman. Wealthy financial services professionals are big art buyers in their own rights. Last month, Steve Cohen from SAC Capital spent $155m on Picasso’s “Le Rêve.” Andrew Hall, the former Citigroup commodities trader, has a giant contemporary art collection to go with his 1,000 year old castle. Achilles Macris, a former J.P. Morgan trader implicated in the failed London Whale trades famously had a piece of artwork featuring a giant missile on his apartment wall.
Buying art doesn't make you any less of a philistine, however. Helen Wang, a structured products banker who’s worked at JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch and is also founder of the China International Art Foundation, said financial services professionals have a different approach to their art than other species of person. “Traditional collectors will buy art based on passion, whereas people from the finance industry will weigh it more as an asset class,” said Wang.
The organizer of one European art event said bankers and corporate types are very welcome, but are very sadly lacking in taste. “It’s not that they actually like art – it’s just the names that they’re interested in. They don’t even look at the images. You could put a smear of marmalade on a page and they’d queue up for it as long as it’s by a well known artist,” he complained.
In New York: Frieze, Randall's Island, Manhattan, May 10th-13th
In Continental Europe: Venice Biennale, Venice, 1st June to 24th November
In Asia: The Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair. Date yet to be determined.