The Hogarth of hedge funds offers a glimpse into a hidden world
Artist spends six months documenting the mysterious lives of the wizards of finance
Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent
Saturday November 3, 2007
The men and women (or, let's face it, largely men) who are making fantastic fortunes working in hedge funds are often credited with tickling the art market up to its current giddy heights. So there's a pleasing neatness in the idea of an artist being commissioned to turn his scrutiny on to the "hedgies" themselves.
Adam Dant was commissioned, appropriately enough, by Spear's Wealth Management Survey (a quarterly magazine aimed at that special breed of humans known as high-net-worths) to document the professional lives of the mysterious creatures who, behind closed doors in Mayfair and St James's, engage in abstruse activities such as short-selling and leverage.
Dant, whose studio is on the fringes of the City of London in Shoreditch, spent six months in offices in the financial world - in particular taking a rare look inside the HQs of hedge funds, which have acquired a formidable reputation for secrecy.
He spent time, in particular, in the office of Clareville Capital, based in Westminster. Though his resulting works are an amalgam of a number of offices, his piece The Art of Hedge, showing a cutaway of a Georgian house on the fictitious Hedge Row, draws extensively on the sketches he made at Clareville, which is chaired by former Tory treasurer Lord Marland.
Dant, whose manner in the drawings is broadly Hogarthian, made visual inventories of the sort of items - and people - inside such offices. He also spent time following the hedge-fund managers around their chosen haunts - "though, alas, I never got invited on anyone's yacht".
He saw the hedgies disport themselves at Annabel's nightclub and private gambling establishments such as Crockford's in Curzon Street and the nearby Aspinall's, founded by John Aspinall, perhaps most famous as a chum of Lord Lucan. He saw them quaff cocktails at Harry's Bar on Mount Street, and buy up art at Sotheby's, Christie's and the best contemporary art galleries. "It's a very small world," said Dant. "They buy art from White Cube, because it's a reputable name. If you buy your shotgun from Purdey and have your shoes bought in Jermyn Street, you buy your art from White Cube."
The Art of Hedge shows the scene at a notional hedge fund office. Outside in the street is parked the standard-issue Mercedes, with its door being held open by the chauffeur, "who looks like maybe he's a Serbian," said Dant. Towards it hurries a hedgie, BlackBerry attached to his ear. He is holding out a Christie's catalogue, whose cover image is a Damien Hirst. ("Every office must have its spot painting," says Dant, "and perhaps a Cy Twombly and Warhol.") His secretary is in hot pursuit, brandishing a diary, a White Cube invitation and an invitation to join the Olympics committee - an item he noted among the possessions of Clareville managing director David Yarrow.
A delivery man knocks on the door. He is holding an Aspinall's hamper - routinely sent round by the establishment the morning after a wealthy gambler has had a particularly bad night at the tables, according to Dant. The fictional firm is called Zeus - Dant noted the penchant among funds for borrowing nomenclature from classical mythology, such as Clareville's Pegasus fund. In the reception area to the right are "supermodel" administrators "laughing lamely at a hedge fund manager's joke". In the background are stacks of luxury-brand carrier bags and a crate of Chateau Latour. In the room at the lower left a stressed-out hedgie lies on a coach speaking to his personal psychiatrist - a detail inspired by an article about a hedge fund managers' shrink in Spear's. A hedgie consults his fencing instructor, and at the back, a cocktail waiter shucks oysters.
Upstairs, in the left-hand room, is a humidor with the best cigars and a babyfoot table. The walls are adorned with samurai swords and a shark's head. "It's always very aggressive, male stuff," said Dant. "And they really do regard the Art of War as their bible." He is referring to the 2,500-year-old Chinese manual on military strategy by Sun Tzu. At the back of the room is a wooden honours board "like one in a public school or Oxbridge college" showing the successes of the firm. "I saw one of these in a hedge fund office - it started in 2005 and had room to go up to 2028," said Dant.
Over the fire is a bust of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, from the 1987 film Wall Street. In the next room the hedgies are at work, with phones draped at precarious angles about their faces "just like in Wall Street. I thought this was a cliché; in fact it is really what they do," said Dant. "Plus, they wear braces." In the corner a chap wearing tailored pyjamas takes a nap, waiting to do battle at some unearthly hour in the Asian markets.
"I wasn't doing this as a great sociological exercise," said Dant, "but I wanted to do drawings of things that really haven't been looked at before."
· The Art of Hedge is at Robilant and Voena, Dover Street, London, from November 12-16