Artist turns market mayhem into $10,000 paintings

For investors, the stock charts of the past two weeks have been painful to view. Yet for New York City artist Sarah Meyohas, they're are a thing of beauty.

Meyohas, a 24-year-old artist, has taken up residency at Manhattan's sleek 303 Gallery for an unusual performance. Starting Jan. 8, Meyohas worked at a small desk in the center of the gallery, buying and selling stocks. She then charted the price movements and turned the charts into paintings, using a black oil stick on a large white canvas.

The project, which wrapped up Wednesday but will remain on display until Jan. 30, is a commentary on what drives stocks — and how stocks, in turn, drive the economy and culture.

"I think that the way Andy Warhol's art was commodification, my art now is about financialization," said Meyohas, who has an economics degree and interned at a hedge fund before pursuing her art career. "The financial markets have grown in size and importance over the past 25 years in such a phenomenal, almost sublime, way, that I'm just responding to the world."

Meyohas came up with the idea when she was trading for her own stock portfolio. She realized her own buying and selling could have an impact — however remote or indirect — on a stock price.

"From there came the idea of making a creative act that was two-fold," she said. "One, moving a stock for a visual purpose, and two, re-drawing it on canvas."

For the 303 Gallery project, Meyohas used her own money to buy small, thinly traded stocks with market caps under $40 million, so she could move the stock price with her trading. She selected stocks with quirky names or odd businesses, like Pope Resources, NeuroMama or Paradise Inc.

When she was buying Paradise Inc., her broker called and asked if she was sure she wanted to buy such a thinly traded, little-known stock.

"The broker called me up and told me I'm the only person on Paradise, and asked whether I was really sure if [I knew] what I was doing," she said.

Through these unorthodox trades, Meyohas said she lost 10s of 1000s of dollars.

Installation view at 303 Gallery, January 14, 2016.
Source: Sarah Meyohas, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York.
Installation view at 303 Gallery, January 14, 2016.

Her experiment, of course, came at a dramatic moment in markets history — the worst-ever start to a year. The day she started trading, the Dow fell nearly 200 points, and its losses soon accelerated.

Her timing wasn't planned: She and the gallery scheduled her residency months ago. And the broader market correction had little visible impact on her stocks, since they are so tiny and thinly traded.

Yet trading in the middle of a financial storm reinforced Meyohas' view of the volatility and emotional forces behind stock moves.

"Prices don't move just because of fundamentals, especially in this trading environment," she said. "When fundamentals don't explain what's going on you are forced to acknowledge the power of sentiment. How is it that people think one thing on Monday and something radically different on a Thursday when nothing enormous has happened?"

Many may wonder whether Meyohas' finished product — single black lines on white canvases — are true art. Yet she has already sold most of the dozen paintings she created, each priced at $10,000. Which means these portraits of market mayhem will wind up on some very expensive walls.

Meyohas said some of the buyers, not surprisingly, work in finance.

"I'm happy they are selling and ending up in people's homes," she said. "All markets are linked and here [is] this physical link between the financial market and now the art market."

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