Artists Targeted in Exchange Traded Funds Advertorial

by Rea McNamara on April 12, 2016 Newswire

A mobile phone shot of the Globe sponsored content, which is only available to read in its print edition.

A mobile phone shot of the Globe advertorial featuring An Te Liu, which is only available to read in its print edition.

It’s not often a Canadian artist is featured in the business section of Canada’s top national paper, the Globe and Mail — especially in an advertorial promoting investment in exchange traded funds (ETFs).

ETFs are like mutual funds: so-called “baskets of securities” that enable you to diversify your holdings. The Financial Times has called ETFs the “phenomenon of the moment”: they are more “liquid” than mutual funds, and also cheaper, because they are tied to an index, making them ideal for beginner investors — like artists.

In this context, then, it might not seem so unusual that An Te Lu would be profiled in a printed half-page of “sponsored content” discussing his ETF-based portfolio.

The Toronto-based mid-career artist, whose work is in the collections of the AGO and National Gallery, is seen photographed next to one of his sculptures, and speaks frankly about his financial planning. “Having an ETF-based portfolio not only gives Mr. Liu confidence that, he can potentially have a comfortable retirement,” we’re told in this piece advertising BlackRock’s ETFs. “His investment enables him to concentrate on his art.” This could include, according to Liu, a second studio abroad, and the mobility to travel.

So why was a professional artist selected as an ideal investor in an advertorial paid for by an US-based asset manager?  When I reached out to Liu for comment on his involvement, he divulged that he was approached by the Globe — through a close friend, who incidentally advised him on his savings — for what he thought was a regular story. But it wasn’t until the story was published, that he was made aware that he was participating in an advertorial. “Maybe I was a little surprised, but I don’t find it super tacky,” he says. “I don’t feel like it was really trying to sell something specific, like some kind of new diet pill.”

Installation view of An Te Liu's "Mono No Ma" (2013) at the Gardiner Museum. (Credit: An Te Liu)

Installation view of An Te Liu’s “Mono No Ma” (2013) at the Gardiner Museum. (Credit: An Te Liu)

Liu, who is represented by Toronto’s Division Gallery, has shown in the United States, Europe and Asia. While he’s frank in acknowledging not knowing much about “financial stuff”, he admits to reading the Economist, and notes how the subject of money is avoided by the art world, “probably because the economy of an artist doesn’t allow you to entertain this kind of thing. It’s more about short-term gain and survival.”

“Although there are very healthy institutions and great collectors, the Canadian contemporary art world doesn’t make you as super-rich as you might in the United States. It’s different,” he says. “Within your life, your work can be selling within a certain amount of time that would make you comfortable, [but] that’s pretty non-existent in Canada. You have to mindful in how to support yourself.”

After contacting a representative from BlackRock for comment, I was put in touch with the uncredited author of the piece, David Israelson. The Toronto-based writer and editor frequently freelances for the Globe’s business section, as well as its Content Studio, which executes content marketing initiatives. “Even I get confused,” Israelson told me over the phone. “Sponsored, branded, native. It’s a brave new world.” When I asked him why he chose an artist as an ideal beginner investor, he explained “I was looking for someone who wasn’t a professional investor or a day trader, understood the importance of taking care of their money and investing, but didn’t have time to devote to it because they have other things to do. And he’s a pretty skilled artist as well.”

Liu acknowledges the profile was a “good opportunity for people to know me and my work.” And while he didn’t bother emailing his colleagues when the story came out (“that would be weird”) he did, however, make a point of emailing his collectors.

“I thought they would find it funny and interesting that I did that,” he says. “It’s not a bad thing. They would get it, for sure.”

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