Would you be willing to throw down $1,000 on an art collection that you couldn’t see beforehand if it meant supporting local artists?
That’s how members-only art collector’s club Commissioner works. The club started in Miami in 2018 and will soon launch in Detroit.
To join Commissioner, members pay for a 10-month season that gives them access to “mystery works” created by featured artists. Subscribers won’t know exactly what the artists are making until the season’s end, when they receive limited-edition pieces that won’t be available anywhere else.
The first Detroit season will feature work from local contemporary artists Darryl DeAngelo Terrell, Judy Bowman, and Amna Ashgar. At a pre-launch event at the end of May, each artist debuted 15 limited edition pieces to give potential collectors a taste of what the club would offer.
While a price for a Commissioner Detroit subscription isn’t set in stone just yet, a collector’s level membership costs about $1,200 in Miami. That $1,200 includes four exclusive pieces of art, studio visits, community programming, and private collection tours. There’s also a cheaper $75 membership, but it doesn’t include any of the art pieces.
The money from membership fees gives artists the complete freedom to create whatever they want during the season without worrying about getting into a gallery or having to sell the work on their own. Participating artists will each receive a $4,000 commission plus another $1,500 for materials and curatorial support.
Commissioner Detroit is also donating twenty percent of its sales to We The People of Detroit, an organization that supports residents in “issues related to civil rights, land, water, education, and democracy,” according to a press release.
“We believe the future of arts patronage is collaborative and community-led, which for so many reasons, makes Detroit an ideal civic partner,” Commissioner co-founder Dejha Carrington says. “The city has long impacted art, industry, and social progress. Detroit stands out as a model of individuals challenging structural norms to create more equitable systems through its strong creative culture and fierce dedication to autonomy and authenticity.”
Commissioner is backed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Louis Buhl & Co. Detroit is the first city the subscription-based program is coming to outside of Miami.
Carrington tells us the group is still trying to figure out a pricing model for the Detroit market.
“We’re less tied to the price point than we are to this idea of group economics,” she says. “[In Miami] every collector gets core pieces of work, as well as the programming, as well as passes to Miami Art Week, which is our largest art fair locally, so the value is tremendous. It’s not inexpensive, but it definitely creates a space for contemporary works.”
Bowman’s collection “Rise Up II (Yellow Shirt)” is already sold out, not long after the pre-launch. The collection was a limited-edition of eight signed and numbered pieces, plus two artist prints.
Bowman is a mixed-media collage and fine art print artist who was born in 1952 and raised in Detroit. Her work pays visual tribute to “personal memories from her coming of age in Detroit’s Eastside and Black Bottom neighborhoods,” according to a statement.
“Being selected to be one of the inaugural artists for Commissioner Detroit is quite an honor,” she says. “To help emerging collectors learn how to be a collector advances the world of art. I create pieces that capture today’s climate of people standing up for their rights worldwide. I believe these pieces will be relevant to both new and seasoned collectors.”
Terrell is a BLK queer artist based in Detroit who explores themes like femme identity, the displacement of Black and Brown people, sexuality, and gender through photography, video, and performance art.
Ashgar’s work, on the other hand, delves into the American experience by mixing imagery from cultural motifs like her family’s Pakistani popular culture ephemera to Disney movies to Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Orientalist paintings. She also grew up in the Detroit area where she now resides.
Back in Miami, the organization has commissioned more than $200,000 in new works by local artists, hosted upward of 35 events, and “introduced more than 200 members to their local arts community in four years,” it says.
Though things are still in the works for Commissioner’s first season in Detroit, it’ll be interesting to see how this community-based program unfolds and what opportunities it presents for local artists.
More information is available at commissioner.us/detroit.