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Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz want you to see the 'Giants' of art in their collection

This 1970 photograph, <em>Untitled (Model Who Embraced Natural Hairstyles at AJASS Photoshoot) </em>is just one of the works in the Dean Collection on display at the Brooklyn Museum
Joshua White / JWPictures.com
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The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. © Kwame Brathwaite.
This 1970 photograph, Untitled (Model Who Embraced Natural Hairstyles at AJASS Photoshoot) is just one of the works in the Dean Collection on display at the Brooklyn Museum

The singer-songwriter Alicia Keys and her husband, rapper/producer Kasseem Dean, known professionally as Swizz Beatz, are known as musicians. But they are also art collectors. And now, dozens of works they own are on display at the Brooklyn Museum in a new exhibition called"Giants."

The musicians mainly collect living Black artists, and "Giants" refers both to the lions of art, photography, textiles and sculpture on display — artists like Kehinde Wiley, Nick Cave and Lorna Simpson — as well as the monumental size of much of the work.

"We want you to feel connected and emotional and really discover artists that maybe you know of, maybe you don't know of, maybe you're seeing for the first time," said Keys in a video in the exhibition. "We want you to see the giants on whose shoulders we stand."

Kehinde Wiley's colossal portrait of a young man,<em> Femme piquée par un serpent,</em> stretches across one wall of the gallery.
Glenn Steigelman / The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys ©Kehinde Wiley
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The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys ©Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley's colossal portrait of a young man, Femme piquée par un serpent, stretches across one wall of the gallery.

In the video, Keys and Dean say that they've never seen so many of the works they own in one place. They have many works not on display here — Dean says that they own over 1,000. He is a former trustee of the Brooklyn Museum; he resigned in the fall so that the show would not be a conflict of interest.

This 2018 Derrick Adams work is called <em>Floater</em>.
© 2023 Derrick Adams Studio. (Photo: Joshua White / JWPictures.com / The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys.
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The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys.
This 2018 Derrick Adams work is called Floater.

Many works in the collection are figurative or are portraits. Some of the most moving are from the photographerGordon Parks, known for his documentary photos of Black life in the 1940s through 1970s. The Dean Collection has the largest number of Parks photos in private hands.

Muhammad Ali, as seen in this untitled 1970 Miami photograph by Gordon Parks, printed in 2018.
Glenn Steigelman / The Dean Collection,courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. © The Gordon ParksFoundation. Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation.
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The Dean Collection,courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. © The Gordon ParksFoundation. Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation.
Muhammad Ali, as seen in this untitled 1970 Miami photograph by Gordon Parks, printed in 2018.

The exhibit itself is set up as if in a series of comfortable living rooms, with couches and speakers, playing music chosen by Dean. This was deliberate, said curator Kimberli Gant.

A living room-like setup overlooks small, exquisite paintings of Jamaica by Barkley L. Hendricks.
P a u l a A b r e u P i t a / Brooklyn Museum
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Brooklyn Museum
A living room-like setup overlooks small, exquisite paintings of Jamaica by Barkley L. Hendricks.

"We always like to have visitors feel that our shows are accessible to them," Gant said. She said that museums are often intimidating spaces, and she wants those coming to the show to think about what it would be like to live with art, just like Keys and Dean do.

"Maybe it's not this work. Maybe you don't love this work, and that's fine," she said. "But whatever work you love, you can live with it. We invite you to sit. We invite you to look."

A large 2016 installation by Ebony G. Patterson called <em>... they were just hanging out... you know...talking about...(...when they grow up...)</em> made of beads, appliqués, fabric, glitter, buttons, costume jewelry, trimming, rhinestones, glue and digital prints.
/ The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. ©Ebony G. Patterson. Courtesy of the artist, Monique Meloche Gallery, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
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The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. ©Ebony G. Patterson. Courtesy of the artist, Monique Meloche Gallery, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
A large 2016 installation by Ebony G. Patterson called ... they were just hanging out... you know...talking about...(...when they grow up...) made of beads, appliqués, fabric, glitter, buttons, costume jewelry, trimming, rhinestones, glue and digital prints.

Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys is at the Brooklyn Museum in New York through July 7.

This story is edited by Ciera Crawford.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jennifer Vanasco
Jennifer Vanasco is an editor on the NPR Culture Desk, where she also reports on theater, visual arts, cultural institutions, the intersection of tech/culture and the economics of the arts.