Hedge fund managers play a large role in the art market, usually by using their billionaire wealth to set new records at auctions.
Not Nelson Saiers. The former trader left Wall Street behind to become a professional artist.
Saiers, who graduated from the University of Virginia in 1997 and earned his PhD in a branch of theoretical mathematics called algebraic topology a year later, followed the path of many math whizzes in the last decade. He was a managing director for the prop trading desk at Deustche Bank, where trading in complex derivatives can lead to huge profits. He then became chief investment officer for the hedge fund, Saiers Capital.
Until he left the firm in 2014, the hedge fund was known as one of the best practitioners in the niche of volatility investing — his firm's algorithms were designed to identify when volatility in the price of an asset signaled future profit opportunities.
But having a hedge fund with his name on the door wasn't enough. Saiers said he realized he needed to make a change when he was constantly daydreaming about art in his spare time. He also cites the intangibility of his work on Wall Street and the tendency of people to compare salaries like scores as other deterring factors. "You're a gerbil in a wheel … the mark just keeps getting higher what it means to be rich."
Saiers decided to include algorithms that he wrote on Wall Street in a series of paintings completed last year. "I take this ... code and turn it into these very striking visual shapes — circles, squares, triangles — that are on the background of a lot of these Wall Street pieces," he told CNBC.
Saiers' "Inside Wall Street" series became a way for him to convey what happens in financial crises, like the ones in 1907 and 2008. "The main motivation was really to try to help people see the complexity of these products and the complexity of what goes on behind the scenes. ... It actually affects all of our lives, but there's not a lot of transparency about what derivatives are."