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Brooklyn Museum Showcases Collection From Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys

The exhibition features more than 100 major artworks by important Black American, African and African diasporic artists.
Kwame Brathwaite (Brooklyn, New York, 1938-2023, New York, New York). Untitled (Model who embraced natural hairstyles at AJASS photoshoot) , circa 1970, printed 2018. Archival pigment print, 60 × 60 in. (152.4 × 152.4 cm). The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. © Kwame Brathwaite.

The Brooklyn Museum will be home to the first major exhibition of the world-class collection of multigenerational Black diasporic artists. "Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys" will showcase their expansive collecting history, bringing together nearly forty “giants” of the art world, including Gordon Parks, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lorna Simpson, Kehinde Wiley and Nina Chanel Abney.

“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. In the process, they have created one of the most important collections of contemporary art,” said Anne Pasternak, Shelby White and Leon Levy Director.

The exhibition will open with an introduction to Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys’ creative lives and their sources of inspiration. Born and raised New Yorkers, the couple has been making music for decades.

Beatz began his career working first as a DJ and later as a performer and producer for his family’s record label, Ruff Ryders, at the age of 17. Keys, a 15-time Grammy Award–winning artist, learned to play the piano as a child, releasing her hit debut album when she was 20 years old. Since the Deans began collecting art more than 20 years ago, they have focused on supporting living artists.

“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. Their shared passion for collecting, supporting and building community among artists, particularly artists of color, is at the heart of the Dean Collection.

Paying homage to legendary older artists, the section On the Shoulders of Giants features work by artists who have left an indelible mark on the world. In her large, colorful abstract paintings, Esther Mahlangu reimagines the long-standing tradition of South African Ndebele house painting. The legacy of portrait and street photography are exemplified in the works of Kwame Brathwaite, Malick Sidibé, and Gordon Parks, the last of which the Deans hold the largest private collection. 

The Giant Conversations section explores how artists have always critiqued and commented on the world around them. Lorna Simpson’s Tense (1991) considers Black women’s self-representation within an environment where others often define that representation. Nick Cave’s textured sculptures examine how Black people, particularly men, must assume costumes to conceal and protect themselves against violence. Other artists such as Jerome Lagarrigue and Henry Taylor present issues of protest and lack of visibility due to homelessness.

Works on view also celebrate Blackness and champion the beauty, resilience, distinctiveness, connection and joyousness within communities across the globe. More than a dozen photographs by Jamel Shabazz honor the everyday people walking the streets of New York from the 1980s to the present. Amy Sherald’s large-scale diptych portrays Baltimore, Maryland, dirt bike culture and the joyful freedom that comes with riding.

In the last section of the show, Giant Presence, monumental artworks form an impressive finale in the Museum’s Great Hall atrium. Nina Chanel Abney’s Catfish (2017) is a visual provocation about sexual and financial exchange between individuals in a colorful setting. With his nearly eight-foot-tall Big Wheel I (2018), Arthur Jafa draws from Mississippi’s monster truck culture and histories of anti-Black violence, underscoring the coexistence of Black Americans’ joys and traumas. 

"Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys" will be on view from Feb. 10 until July 7, 2024.