The Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys’ Art Comes to Brooklyn

Over the past five years, Kasseem Dean (better known as Swizz Beatz) and Alicia Keys have assembled perhaps the most significant collection of work by contemporary Black artists. Now, the Brooklyn Museum is preparing to showcase a small swath of it in its McKim, Mead, and White–designed Great Hall.

Ebony G. Patterson, '...they were just hanging out you know...talking about... (...when they grow up...)'. Credit (all images): the Brooklyn Museum.

The Brooklyn Museum is no stranger to exhibitions that fearlessly color outside the lines of academic tedium. Such risk-taking means that, at times, the programming doesn’t quite stick the landing. When it does, it has the power to shift the cultural lexicon as we know it. (Look no further than how the runaway success of “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” inspired the fashion house to stage its forthcoming pre-fall runway show there come April.) At present, the museum is in all-hands-on-deck mode preparing to unveil “Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys.”

From Feb. 10 through July 7, nearly 100 works from the duo’s collection will adorn the museum’s Great Hall. The Dean Collection, which takes Kasseem’s last name, is the stuff of legend. As a teen, the Bronx-born musician used the earnings from his first-ever hit to purchase an Ansel Adams photo. That simple transaction catalyzed a love of collecting that has continued to grow in recent years, ballooning his collection from around 400 pieces to the thousands, with an emphasis on buoying the market for works by contemporary Black artists. Works by Titus Kaphar, Amy Sherald, Nina Chanel Abney, Meleko Mokgosi, Arthur Jafa, Odili Donald Odita, and Hank Willis Thomas are just a handful that visitors can look forward to seeing when the exhibition opens on Saturday.

Kehinde Wiley, 'Femme piquée par un serpent'.

Neither the collectors nor the Brooklyn Museum positions it as such, but “Giants” lands as something of a response to the seminal Kehinde Wiley exhibition staged there in 2015. While walking through the show, Dean realized that not a single work was owned by a Black collector. The moment galvanized him to acquire the 8.5-by-25-foot-long painting Femme piquée par un Serpent, the largest work of Wiley’s he could find, which will appear in “Giants.” Anyone who bothers to check the art industry’s pulse knows that Dean isn’t an arriviste—he’s a serious market force unto himself who has undertaken the laboriously unsexy mantle of championing artist royalties, staging seven international editions of the No Commission art fair, and lending his expertise to fellow collectors with the power to set new sales records for works by living Black artists.

“There is great brand recognition with the Deans,” says Kimberli Grant, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art. “People love Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys, but they don’t know them as collectors,” With any luck, that will soon change.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, 'Paris Apartment'.
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