NEW YORK – Grammy Award-winning musician and producer Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean has steadily championed young artists, both as an avid collector of contemporary art and the force behind The Dean Collection. Last night at an exhibition at Sotheby’s, he introduced works by six of his new favourites, dubbed The Unknowns, to the public.

Part of Canon’s Rebel with a Cause campaign, the show was curated by Dean, who with his wife Alicia Keys, joined the artists the night before when selected works were projected onto the facades of several New York City museums. The works are now being auctioned online through 9 February to benefit the Bronx Charter School of the Arts. We sat down with Dean at Sotheby’s to talk about collecting, creativity and the power of social media.


Tell us about the concept behind The Unknowns campaign.
The Unknowns is an amazing collaboration between The Dean Collection and Canon, who chose me to be in their Rebel with a Cause campaign. It’s an honour to be chosen and to know that people are watching what The Dean Collection is doing.

I thought this was an amazing opportunity to take artists who people probably haven’t heard of and who might not be immediately chosen by a gallery – and put them on a major platform. So one day they’re living with their mom or going through whatever challenges, and the next thing you know, they have their art projected on a New York City museums and are in an auction. They need that voice, because in this day and age, a lot of things are based off of hype. If you have a big name or you catch fire on social media, then everybody wants to run to you. But what about the people who don’t know how to catch fire? I wanted to put these artists in front of millions of people and set them up to take their talent to the next level.

How did you first become interested in contemporary art?
I’ve been collecting for more than ten years. The contemporary scene first popped out to me growing up in the South Bronx and seeing Keith Haring’s work on handball courts. I didn’t really pay attention to it at the time, but I grew into it. Now I realize the reason I like a lot of contemporary art is because a lot of the visuals bring me back to that space. 

What's your approach to collecting? Is there something in particular you look for before you decide to add a piece to The Dean Collection?
Yes – the artist has to be living. I have to engage with the artist, because I started The Dean Collection as a museum for my kids and I thought it would be cool if they got the chance to meet every artist who is in it. As I started collecting more, I also figured out that I was helping a lot of artists – when I would post an artist’s work on my social media, I would get calls and emails back from them like, “You posted my work and the whole show sold out and all these galleries called me.” So I think it’s important to keep up that relationship. It’s a two-way street.



Why do you think it’s important to learn about and expose yourself to the work of up-and-coming artists?
By engaging with up-and-coming artists I think you get to stay ahead of the curve. You get to see what’s next, what’s new. I’ve travelled the world and seen people who may be the next Basquiat or the next Miró or the next Picasso. But nobody may ever really see this person’s work if we don’t find them. We’ve got to figure out a way that these locked voices can be heard.

How did you curate the artists featured in today’s auction?
I curated the artists for this show straight off of Instagram. They applied by using the hashtag “#theunknowns.” I wanted to keep it very simple.

What advice do you have for young collectors who would like to explore “unknown” artists?
A lot of people come to me about how to invest in art. I don’t know how to invest in art. For me, the investment in art is the feeling you get when you look at it – the vibe, the energy you get from a piece that you want to live with for the rest of your life. If you collect from you heart, I think you’ll find that you have some gems in there when you do an evaluation.