Soul Searching

Grammy Award–winning music producer Swizz Beatz cultivates his art collection from the heart.

Growing up in the South Bronx, I was surrounded by visual art on the streets. I didn’t understand the importance of it at the time, but the street art that I saw everywhere influenced me.

I began collecting a few years ago. I wanted to put some work on the walls of a new apartment, and I started going to galleries and being very inquisitive, learning about artists—and trying to understand why the prices were so high. There’s still an educational component to collecting for me. My first piece was an Ansel Adams photograph of a mountain landscape. That led to other types of work, including Andy Warhol prints from the “diamond dust” period, and a nice six-foot Sam Francis watercolor.

I was pretty much collecting for status at that time, and I admit that’s the wrong way to do it. You should collect for your enjoyment and what you feel. I’ve gone on to acquire work by Kaws, Swoon, Kehinde Wiley, and others. I’m also on the board of the Brooklyn Museum, which I enjoy, because it can do things that no other museum can get away with. Even in my studio, art is everywhere. When people come in, I notice that they look at the work, and sometimes it places them in an uncomfortable zone—which is great for bringing creative energy to the room.

I think it’s more fun to collect work by living artists. I enjoy listening to their stories. It’s one of the reasons why I created the No Commission art fair with Bacardi in 2015. All artists are given their exhibition space for free, and a hundred percent of the sale of each artwork goes directly to them. Whether it’s visual art or music, someone is always trying to get into the creative person’s pocket. We’re trying to free artists from that. Next up is the first Berlin edition, June 29 and July 1.

For me, collecting is a form of expression. You can agree with my taste or not. It’s just like music: Not everyone is going to like the same song.

The author, whose birth name is Kasseem Dean, is a hip-hop producer from New York City.

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