Art collecting giants Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz discuss High Museum exhibit

‘Giants: Art from the Dean Collection’ to spotlight the couple’s wide-ranging collection starting September 13.
Amy Sherald's "Deliverance" (detail), oil on linen (2022) is one of the works that will be featured in a High Museum of Art exhibition this fall that focuses on the art collection of musicians Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz..
(Courtesy of the High Museum of Art)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Amy Sherald's "Deliverance" (detail), oil on linen (2022) is one of the works that will be featured in a High Museum of Art exhibition this fall that focuses on the art collection of musicians Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz.. (Courtesy of the High Museum of Art)

Art might be Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz’s love language.

The musicians’ first date was at an art gallery, says Keys, a private showing of the Russian father of Art Deco, Erté. “He told me he would introduce me to Erté,” Keys said of Beatz (aka Kasseem Dean). “I connected with it so much, that I ended up buying. That was one of my first purchases.

“It was the beginning of not only our love, but also the beginning of the way that we connect to art,” added Keys, speaking from Los Angeles about her 14-year marriage to DJ and musician Dean, who’s on the other line from Cannes, France.

"Soundsuit" (2016), a mixed media sculpture by American visual artist Nick Cave (not to be confused with the Australian rock musician), will be on view in "Giants."
(Courtesy of the High Museum of Art / Joshua White/

Credit: Joshua White/

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Credit: Joshua White/

Art is also the way, the couple has said in interviews, that they communicate self-love to their children — with artworks by Black artists featuring people who look like them.

Love of self and love of community is the focus of the expansive — and ever-growing — collection highlighted in the exhibition “Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys,” opening September 13 at the High Museum of Art’s Wieland Pavilion. The exhibition debuted at New York’s Brooklyn Museum in February, curated by its curator of modern and contemporary art Kimberli Gant and curatorial assistant Indira A. Abiskaroon.

Much of the Deans’ collection — which numbers in the thousands and is displayed at their homes in New York, New Jersey and California — focuses on contemporary figurative work by living Black artists. Dean is reluctant, when pressed, to say how many artworks are added to the collection each year.

“That’s a wild number because my wife has to control that with me,” laughed Dean. “We have a very diverse collection and we plan on expanding that into indigenous, Latino and artists from Asia.”

That was not always the case. “Artists of color weren’t being presented to me,” said Dean, when he first started collecting — and Black artists such as Hank Willis Thomas did not have the presence in the contemporary art market that they do today. So the couple initially focused on blue-chip art. But over time, Dean has said he was noticing more work by Black artists being owned by white collectors and wanted to both support those artists and model collecting for other Black art enthusiasts.

The couple has never used curators or art advisers to build their collection but instead focus on what they love and what suits the “vibration” of their home.

“You should collect by your heart, and not by hype — what’s the coolest thing,” advised Dean.

“I do think as artists, it’s an emotional connection with other artists and that does feel like a theme. It does make the connection very genuine and pure,” said Keys of the unique relationship the Deans have with the artists upon whom they focus. “It’s not transactional,” added Keys, referring to how she and Dean engage with those artists.

Along with 98 artworks to be exhibited at this exclusive Southeastern venue for the show, “Giants” will feature other objects from the couple’s personal collection, including albums, musical equipment and BMX bikes.

The work on view at the High ranges from pieces by legends of Black American and African art including landscapes by Barkley L. Hendricks. One section of the exhibition, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” focuses on renowned artists such as photographer Malick Sidibé, painter Esther Mahlangu and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Also highlighted in “Giants” are more contemporary pieces by Deana Lawson, featured in a 2022-23 show at the High; and Ebony G. Patterson, winner of the High’s 2023 David C. Driskell Prize. Another notable contemporary work is by Clark Atlanta University graduate and Michelle Obama portrait painter Amy Sherald, the ebullient diptych “Deliverance” (2022), which depicts dirt bike riders.

Collection diversity is key to the Deans. “We put unknown artists next to known artists,” said Dean. “What this does is it gives everybody the floor to shine. You might go to look at a name and discover a new name. We feel ‘Giants’ is the gift that keeps giving.”

“Giants” will feature 20 photographs by Gordon Parks, the subject of a 2014-15 High exhibition, “Segregation Story.” The Deans are the owners of the largest collection of Parks photographs in the world.

“We just added a couple more” at the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner and Auction in May, said Dean. The couple was honored with the foundation’s Patron of the Arts Award.

Derrick Adams' "Floater 74" has been featured in the family room of Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz La Jolla, California, home. It will be on view as part of “Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys" at the High Museum of Art this September.
(Courtesy of the High Museum of Art)


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“I think maybe one of my personal favorites is ‘Invisible Man,’” said Keys of a 1952 black and white image (not included in the High exhibition) created by Parks for Life magazine of a man emerging from a manhole cover in the middle of a Harlem street.

“I remember really loving the book ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison and just thinking about how so many of us have to put on a facade and are never quite actually who we are — and just thinking about how powerful that theme is,” said Keys.

The meaning of the “Giants” title is manifold, referring to some of the art stars such as Lorna Simpson and Kehinde Wiley, whose portrait of Keys will be included in the show. The works themselves are often monumental, including an 8-foot-tall Arthur Jafa sculpture “Big Wheel I” (2018) that references both Mississippi’s monster truck culture and the grotesque violence visited on Black bodies in the South.

The show’s title also nods to Keys’ and Dean’s celebrity. And it offers some love to the Black community whose sense of self the collectors hope to prop up by showing work that celebrates the beauty and joy of Black subjects. That’s especially relevant in a Western art history that has often excluded artists of color and resigned Black subjects to odalisques, servants and enslaved people in classical oil paintings.

Keys and Dean both grew up in New York, though Dean moved to Atlanta as a teenager, attending Stone Mountain High School and beginning to DJ first at high school proms and then at clubs. His mother still lives in Atlanta. His grandfather was a photographer, and Dean’s first art purchase was an Ansel Adams black and white photograph.

“The Ansel Adams spoke to me because it looked like a destination I would never get to go to,” he said. “It just brought ease to your eyes when you looked at it.”

“Collecting is a big drug,” admits Dean, who said the couple inevitably agree on the work they bring into their homes.

“We always agree on the work because we share the space and we share the energy.”

Although, admittedly, sometimes the placement of those works can be contentious.

“I remember one time I put up this Damien Hirst skull in the dining room. It just wasn’t working out,” Dean laughed.

“Alicia said, ‘I don’t know if the skull is the greatest idea in that space.’”

“And I said, ‘You know what? You’re right,’” said Dean.

Dean ended up moving the skull to his studio.

“The thing we go off of in the house is, it can’t have any bad energy.”


“Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys”

September 13-January 19, 2025, at the High Museum of Art. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. $23.50. 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-4400,