Lai See

Fine art transforms from austere to cool

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 12:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 12:36am

Art Basel is an art fair extraordinaire. How to explain the champagne, the exotic attire, the celebrities, the corporate entertainment and of course the money? A visit to Art Basel is unlike going to a museum or a gallery - and it is not just about the art.

UBS, one of the fair's main sponsors, hosted a lunch which featured a panel discussion where the Financial Times' art correspondent Peter Aspden went some way to explaining the Art Basel experience. "Art is now cool," he explained, having undergone an extraordinary transformation from the somewhat austere and low key art venues of former years, and now "has the coolness that used to be the preserve of other art forms such as the movies or music. There is a sort of tyranny of fashion and coolness."

In talking about people who dominate today's art scene he quoted from Adam Lindemann's Collecting Contemporary Art: "They look good in Prada suits, they are entertaining and international and they can help secure dinners at hot restaurants and private parties. They make sure you are having fun."

Clearly part of the allure for the rich in buying art is that, unlike a Bordeaux or a Ferrari, they are buying something which is often expensive and is at the same time unique.

Of course the price of the art works puts ownership out of the reach of most people, not that the prices were displayed - they rarely are. Nevertheless, none of this deterred the general public who yesterday came in their hundreds to see the art on display. The visual arts, unlike fine wines, don't have to be consumed to be enjoyed.


Smoking gun?

We see that Davidoff, one of the main sponsors of Art Basel, has attracted attention from Hong Kong's Tobacco Control Office (TCO). It sent its inspectors on Wednesday to the Davidoff Collectors Lounge at the art fair and "rectified some irregularities" on the spot. Tobacco Control says that an "investigation is ongoing" and that it is working with its lawyers. The TCO is tasked with ensuring that tobacco companies comply with the law relating to the advertising of their products.

On a more serious note, a letter from the convention secretariat of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, points out that Hong Kong's Smoking (Public Health) Ordinance "prohibits all forms of direct and indirect advertising, as well as sponsorship by the tobacco industry". Thus Davidoff's sponsorship of Art Basel would appear to be in breach of Hong Kong's laws. Art Basel may come to regret this partnership with big tobacco.


Savaged by a dead sheep

The Securities and Futures Commission has finally resolved an investigation into Citigroup's algorithmic trading which dates back to 2010.

Citigroup Global Markets Asia was doubtless crushed to learn that it had been reprimanded for its failure to ensure that certain securities orders executed through its algorithmic trading system between April 2009 and May 2010 would not cause undue price impact to the market.

The SFC said in a statement that its investigations into Citigroup's use of the system to execute client orders on four occasions found that Citigroup's execution in those cases resulted in a material increase or decrease in the price of the relevant stocks within a very short period of time, before the stock prices returned quickly to their original levels. Despite being let off with a reprimand by the SFC there was a sting in the tail for Citigroup.

The SFC warned at the end of its statement that had the offence occurred after January 1, 2014 when the SFC's revised standards on electronic trading came into effect, Citigroup would have received "a heavy fine". After Citigroup's treatment at the hands of the US regulators over the past few years this treatment from the SFC would have seemed "like being savaged by a dead sheep", in the words of Denis Healey.


Bridgewater top dog

Ray Dalio's Bridgewater Associates has maintained its top spot in Institutional Investor's Alpha Hedge Fund 100 list, with US$87.1 billion from investors. JP Morgan stayed in second place with US$59 billion. Funds invested with hedge funds total some US$3 trillion, and about half of that amount is controlled by the biggest 100 hedge funds.

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