Singer Alicia Keys and hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz aren’t only a power couple in the world of music. Over the past two decades, the duo has amassed a diverse array of more than 1,000 works of art known collectively as the Dean Collection.
This coming February, the Brooklyn Museum will showcase a significant selection of their artwork in Giants, an exhibition emphasizing the couple’s passion for supporting Black American, African and African diasporic artists. Bringing together “giants” of the art world like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lorna Simpson, Kehinde Wiley and Nina Chanel Abney, the show of more than 100 works will run through July of 2024.
The art accumulated by Keys and Beatz represents “one of the most important collections of contemporary art,” according to a statement by Anne Pasternak, director of the Brooklyn Museum. “Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys have been among the most vocal advocates for Black creatives to support Black artists through their collecting, advocacy, and partnerships,” she said.
The museum’s exhibition, which will be accompanied by a promised donation of works from the Dean Collection to be announced at a later date, will pay homage to iconic older artists such as Esther Mahlangu, known for reimagining the tradition of South African Ndebele house painting, and the photography of Gordon Parks, of which the Dean Collection owns the largest private holding. Meanwhile, images from Jamel Shabazz, who for decades has photographed ordinary New Yorkers, will be included in a section celebrating Blackness and global communities, as will Amy Sherald’s 2022 Deliverance, a diptych drawing from Baltimore and dirt bike culture.
Another area of Giants will explore the critiques and comments of artists like Lorna Simpson and Nick Cave. Keys and Beatz are also lending monumental artworks like Arthur Jafa’s 2018 Big Wheel I, which stands at nearly eight feet tall.
Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz are prominent figures in the art world
The show will additionally examine the upbringing and lives of Keys, a 15-time Grammy Award-winning artist, and Beatz, a DJ and producer whose real name is Kasseem Dean. The couple has long been a dominant force in the art world with connections to high-profile art institutions. Beatz, a former board member of the Brooklyn Museum, made his first major art purchase at age 18 when he acquired an Ansel Adams photograph, and he celebrated his 30th birthday at a surprise party thrown by Keys at the Guggenheim.
Their collection is housed across storage units, their New Jersey home and Beatz’s Manhattan studio and focuses heavily on multigenerational Black artists. But the duo are also advocates for increased diversity amid art collectors. “The collection started not just because we’re art lovers, but also because there’s not enough people of color collecting artists of color,” Beatz told Cultured magazine in 2018. The producer has guided the collecting activities of friends like Sean Combs, aiding him in his 2018 acquisition of a Kerry James Marshall painting for $21.1 million, which set a record for the most expensive work by a living Black artist.
Keys and Beatz have supported artists through initiatives like their 2017 launch of an informal artist residency in Arizona. Much of their work has focused on ensuring that artists receive royalties for artwork sold on the secondary market—in addition to lobbying for auction houses like Sotheby’s to devote a percentage of sale proceeds to artists. In 2015 they launched an art fair called No Commission which gives 100 percent of the proceeds to creators.