Author: James Terry
The suicide of his brother David, a San Francisco based artist, caught Steven Wells off guard. This middle-aged insurance salesman leaves his family and peaceful existence in Phoenix in order to settle his brother’s affairs. But what Steven expected to be only a matter of days, turns into a month length exploration of his brother’s twofold life (and work) that will ultimately derail Steven’s own life.
David has not only left behind him a large body of paintings, but also an intriguing collection of conceptual art pieces signed under their father’s name, Lloyd Wells. And indeed, these conceptual works have brought ‘Lloyd Wells’ to prominence in the West Coast arts world. These pieces appear to be full of autobiographical elements that only David and Steven could have known about: references to their past, their childhood and, most intriguingly, to their long-deceased father.
Convinced that David’s suicide was his final conceptual art piece, Steven extends his stay in San Francisco in an attempt to discover its deeper meaning. As Steven investigates the material of his brother’s life and questions the incestuous relationships between conceptual art and capitalism, he is forced to re-examine his own childhood as well as his tortuous love for his brother (tinted with rivalry, jealousy and admiration) and to question his own life’s choices (marriage/career). He decides ultimately to embrace his own repressed desire to write.
Plot aside, what makes The Commission unique is the density of thematic layers, some of which are: the persistence of memory, the tensions between brothers, the perils of interpretation and misinterpretation, and the relationship between capitalism and art.