Newport Beach-based collector Demetrio “Dee” Kerrison has made a career of cultivating relationships with artists and galleries. He and his wife Gianna, both executives in the financial services industry, grew up immersed in art and music, joined a nonprofit photography collective called SF Camerawork, and quickly became advocates for contemporary black artists. emerging. An acclaimed collector, Kerrison’s first purchase dates back to 2001, when, on a trip back to his native New York City, he attended an exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem called “Freestyle” and curated by Thelma Golden and Christine Y. Kim. The exhibit showcased the works of 28 leading artists like Mark Bradford and Julie Mehretu and, in Kerrison’s words, blew her mind. He returned to California, immediately connected with a dealer and laid the foundation for his art collection.
It was a whirlwind, so to speak. Today, Kerrison sees himself not only as a collector, but also as a patron. He introduces other collectors to his friends and colleagues, including artists and gallery owners scattered throughout California and New York, supporting the arts by introducing his peers to the creators he finds most outstanding. Although Kerrison admits that museums have become more inclusive of BIPOC artists over the years, he reiterates that blacks still make up only 2% of museum collections in the United States; however the Hammer Museum, where Kerrison sits on the acquisition committee, offers a collection made up of 8% artists of color. “I am delighted to be part of this advisory committee to make a difference,” he says.
Kerrison is also thrilled to have taken on the role of advisor. Emerging artists, many of whom may be preparing to leave a gallery, will call the Kerrisons in search of advice or consultation. At the height of the pandemic, Kerrison encouraged creative people to apply for unemployment, walking them through the process and, simultaneously, offering detailed answers to their financial questions.
And when Kerrison wants to enrich his collection, he too calls on his network. Recently, he connected with two emerging artists, reminding them to consider prioritizing black collectors. The financial executive found his calling as a mentor and collaborator, helping put on shows at Fullerton College, a post-secondary institution in Orange County where, according to Kerrison, few students have even traveled 40 to 50 miles to Los Angeles to see a big exhibit. He worked closely with a professor friend, putting on an exhibit that would essentially bring the art scene from LA to the CO, and his plans for 2022 already involve a few exhibits with galleries in LA.
“Mentorship is in my blood,” Kerrison explains. “Because I think I never really had a mentor, I try to be that person.” And so it is. From now on, Dee and Gianna Kerrison will continue to champion emerging black artists and collectors, uplifting Los Angeles’ great art scene and giving voice to young designers who are still learning to navigate the intricacies of their industry.
Want more culture? Sign up to receive the Cultured newsletter, a bi-weekly guide to what’s new and next steps in art, architecture, design and more.