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Punk Art, Porn and Hedge Fund Insurance

Date: Friday, June 22, 2007
Author: Martin de Sa'Pinto, Hedgeworld.com

LONDON (HedgeWorld.com)—On the face of it, there would seem to be little to link the 1970s hardcore punk rock scene, and the transgressive and sometimes shocking art it spawned, with the dour world of insurance. And so it was that many people must have been more than a little perplexed to receive an invitation to an event called "Champagne, Punk Art and the Buzzcocks" from none other than Miller Insurance Services, a specialist in hedge fund insurance.

"I really enjoyed the HedgeStock event put on by Albourne Village last year," explained Brian Horwell, a director of professional risks at Miller. "I thought it would be great to put on a little event of our own along those lines." But what's the connection between the non-conformism of the punk rock era and the traditionally more staid business of insuring hedge fund directors and officers? "Alternative art, alternative investments," Mr. Horwell said with a smile.

The exhibition was held at Barbican Art Gallery in East London, and featured works from groundbreaking artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat and, from the film industry, Derek Jarman. Also on display were works by Jamie Reid, who designed the covers of a number of controversial Sex Pistols albums. These included "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols"—which was successfully defended against charges of obscenity in a famous court case of the 1970s—and "God Save the Queen," an irreverent parody timed to coincide with celebrations for Elizabeth II's 25th Jubilee Year as the monarch of the United Kingdom in 1977.

Other pieces on display also whipped up a flood of controversy when they were first introduced to the public from the 1960s to the 1980s. Some people termed the productions of artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe and COUM Transmission "transgressive body imagery." Others called it "a frontal attack on society's values," "pornography," and some even less charitable epithets. "I remember it was shocking at the time, but it seems a lot tamer now," said Mr. Horwell.

The concert, held in an underground venue about 100 yards away from the Barbican Art Gallery, featured iconic 1970s punk band The Buzzcocks, a group that has entered into the vernacular after seeing its name incorporated into the title of a satirical 1990s TV show, "Never Mind the Buzzcocks." The venue's free-flowing champagne would probably have been rather incongruous at one of the group's earlier concerts in the mid-to-late 1970s, when rather than smart Italian-cut suits, concertgoers would have worn ripped leather jackets, Mohican hairstyles and pins through their noses, and drunk cans of Carlsberg Special Brew.

Even so, no one seemed to mind. More of the crowd than would have cared to admit was old enough to remember old favorites including "What Do I Get?" and "Ever Fallen in Love?" True, the band didn't jump about like jack-in-the-boxes as they had 30 years earlier—maybe due to creeping arthritis, but just as likely due to the fact that if they had tried, they would have risked serious cranial damage from the fluorescent strip lights running just inches above their heads. Or it may just have been that they weren't used to playing to a band of 40-something insurance experts wearing smart suits and quaffing champagne.

Still, everyone enjoyed a remarkable concert in a highly congenial atmosphere. After the band had finished their turn, with the music of other punk legends playing loudly in the background, band members drank and chatted with a crowd of admiring financial services suits. Now there's something you'd never have seen in the 1970s.