Something borrowed

Michael Nock has amassed a large collection of art during his years in the business but he insists he is not the typical hedge-fund trophy hunter.

Like many high-rolling investors, Michael Nock has amassed a large collection of art during his years in the business, but he insists that he is not the typical hedge-fund trophy hunter for whom art is just another thing at which to win.

Nock started his career as a research analyst and worked for Merrill Lynch and the Man group in Hong Kong before setting up his own hedge fund, Doric Capital (named after an order of classical Greek architecture), where he remains a non-executive director.

He also still manages a portfolio for friends and family, which is why there are trading screens set incongruously amid the clutter of fine art.

“The hedge fund I owned did very well; I was lucky,” he said. “But I’ve always been passionate about art — and I’ve always painted.”

His Lan Kwai Fong office reflects this passion. It is comfortable and old-fashioned, rather than flashy, even though it is filled with works by local contemporary-art pioneers such as Luis Chan and mid-career Australian artists such as Euan Macleod — part of a collection that now comprises more than 500 paintings, as well as photographs, sculptures and lithographs. There are paintings on the floor and leaning against the wall, and also the debris of art in progress: an unfinished canvas and half-squeezed tubes of oil paints scattered around the floor.

Nock complains that he doesn’t get enough time to paint these days, which is hardly surprising. He has given up finance as a full-time job, but in 2012 bought Art-Lease, through which he now leases works from his collection to corporate clients.

“I’m monetising my collection,” he said. Nock typically rents his works for 12 months at a cost of roughly 8% to 10% of the original price and is expanding his portfolio to make sure that Art-Lease can offer something for everyone’s taste.

A lot of businesses get it wrong when using art to decorate their offices, says Nock. “People will say, ‘I just want a splash of red over there,’” he complained.
 “So the problem is that you end up with a lot of bland corporate art.”

Few would describe Nock’s taste as bland. He took time out from his financial career during the early 1990s to move to Los Angeles and study experimental animation —
an avant-garde form of film-making popularised by surrealist directors such as Jan Svankmajer (who first made his name animating cuts of meat in the 1960s).

There are no dancing steaks in Nock’s portfolio, but the works available for lease are more challenging than the typical corporate fare — yet still suited to public spaces.

“You can almost guarantee that a corporate client won’t hang a nude in the office, but they will consider almost anything else,” he said. “We recently bought a Vietnamese triptych depicting a garbage dump, and one of the first paintings I leased out was a post-apocalyptic scene. But it’s certainly true that things like abstract landscapes are the easiest to lease.”

Even so, Nock still has nudes on offer, including a Yonghong Song series titled Bath of Consolation, which features grotesque cartoon figures under a stream of water — the kind of work that even a hedge fund might struggle to display.

“In a low interest-rate environment, art is going to pay investment grade bond kind of returns,” he said.  

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