We’re Not on Wall Street Anymore

Angela Dizon
Nelson Saiers’s investigative Wall Street exhibit opened at HG Contemporary Gallery on Thursday April 7, 2016.

What do you get when you merge the precision of mathematics with the ambiguity of images? “Math art,” while sounding like an oxymoron, is the focus of Nelson Saiers’ latest solo show. Though his portfolio is broadly characterized by geometric lines and circles, “Inside Wall Street” marks the first time the hedge fund manager turned artist explicitly uses financial formulas in his work. The show both illustrates and criticizes the great financial crises of the past century.

At first glance, the pictorial data set on the black backgrounds evokes a programmer’s computer screen. But this isn’t digital art. Saiers goes over the aluminum prints with ink and paint, visualizing the human touch in a field as automated as finance. The sterile black and white backgrounds which dominate the show allude to the dichotomy of good and bad, a familiar motif for Saiers in his two-year-long artistic career. Amidst this dualism, one work stands out. Its gold color evokes not only wealth but — in this context — a moral limbo.

The featured piece, “Midas Loses His Touch Chasing His Tail,” is a visual treatise on the hyperinflation suffered by Germany in 1923 after taking its currency off the gold standard. Since its circulation through press releases and invitations, the piece gives an insightful first impression of Saiers’ show, representing a sort of “gold standard” — the best or most esteemed thing of its kind. While Saiers’ cautionary tale of finance lacks a linear narrative, each work asserts its meaning through several layers of math, history and myth. However simplistic its imagery, the show takes time to figure out.

What’s especially beguiling is how Saiers transforms a financial statistic — the VIX, representative of market volatility — into a motif. In “VIX above 40,” Saiers graphs what were once considered the theoretical upper limits. Blotches and streaks of neon obscure the financial landscape. The anarchy visualizes the Great Recession, wherein the “upper limits” were proven wrong as VIX skyrocketed to the 80s, throwing the markets into disarray.

“Upperbound” continues the abstract narrative, albeit with more pictorial data than patches of paint. The absence of the painterly hand highlights the data but also the problem: given all this analytic information about our manmade economy, why is it so difficult to communicate and comprehend this information?

Saiers communicates the dissonance of the financial world in the chaos of derivatives, graphs and codes printed on aluminum and slathered with paint and ink, he foremost communicates dissonance. The labels, however explanatory, are filled with jargon and knowledge too involved for audiences outside finance.

Looking upon “Untitled,” one gallery-goer declared, “This is code!” to which her friend lauded, “Look at us go!”

Rather than explain the inner mechanisms of finance, Saiers testifies to its lack of transparency. From “The Wolf of Wall Street” to “The Big Short,” as Hollywood finds success in films about financial corruption, “Inside Wall Street” complicates the discussion in a new medium.
“Inside Wall Street” is on display at HG Contemporary Gallery through May 3.

Email Angela Dizon at [email protected]

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