Whitehot Magazine

America’s Hip-hop Medicis: The Dean Collection at the Brooklyn Art Museum

Jamel Shabazz (born Brooklyn, New York, 1960). Breezy Boy Breakers, Midtown, Manhattan, NYC, 2011. The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. © Jamel Shabazz. Images courtesy of the artists and The DEAN Collection/Brooklyn Art Museum.

By PETRA MASON April 29, 2024 

At New York’s Brooklyn Art Museum GIANTS : Art from the DEAN COLLECTION showcases a selection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys museum worthy art collection. On this historic occasion the multitalented power couple get to flex some of their biggest, boldest art pieces, a mix of heavy hitters while putting some emerging artists on the map. All works displayed are colossal in stature and size (some up to 30 feet) by (mostly) living black artists.

Petra Mason caught some downtime with the show's enthusiastic and approachable curator Kimberli Gant to discuss, among other things, how legacy and lineage shape art history.

Kehinde Wiley (born Los Angeles, California, 1977). Femme piquée par un serpent, 2008. Oil on canvas, 102 × 300 in. (259 × 762 cm). The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. © Kehinde Wiley.

Tell us about your fresh approach with GIANTS?

I think you’ll see the power of art through the art works and how the Deans are incredible advocates for artists. They truly are the giants of the exhibition.

Is there a section that you consider a personal favorite?

I don’t have a specific section I love more than the others. I really want visitors to learn about artists they haven’t heard about to make them household names as those who are the major art historical texts. And perhaps to expand their knowledge on artists’ practices they already know.

How did you go about translating and curating the bi-coastal Dean Collection into a museum setting?

We used the theme of "giants'' as a concept, a concept which was incredibly important to the Deans and tried to explore that topic in several ways. I also just looked at the work and used those objects to lead the way for me. We had to be selective which works to include as their collection was much bigger than our space.

Deana Lawson (born Rochester, New York, 1979). Soweto Queen, 2017. Pigmented inkjet print, 55 × 69 in. (139.7 × 175.3 cm). The Dean Collection, courtesy of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. © Deana Lawson.

What are the burning curatorial issues to focus on in global art right now and why?

To me the big issues are always what's relevant in society. Those types of issues may change but artists are always experimenting, exploring, and critiquing the world around us.  

What role do you think Brooklyn Art Museum plays in the art ecosystem? 

We are actively trying to expand the canon of art history, to show how relevant it is, but also that it should and is accessible to anyone who is interested. You don't have to have an advanced degree to appreciate creativity. 

Gant's ethos manifested in Alicia Keys statement about GIANTS: ‘We want people to see themselves. We want people to be inspired. We want people to feel inspired. We want people to feel connected and to really see the giants on whose shoulders we stand’.‘ We want people to see that you are also a giant, you are special, incredible, and unique.’ ‘That’s why the title is ‘GIANTS’ because the artists are giants, the people are giants.’ WM


Petra Mason

Cultural historian and vintage photography book author published by Rizzoli New York. Founder Obscure Studio and ArtHit. Whitehot arts and culture contributor since 2016.

Photography by (c) Thekiso Mokhele / Obscure Studio


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