Swizz Beatz Talks About Collecting Artwork And His Latest Project In Berlin

Swizz Beatz Talks About Collecting Artwork And His Latest Project In Berlin

The award-winning producer opens up about his work to help young artists.

The award-winning producer opens up about his work to help young artists.

Text: Nadja Sayej

Swizz Beatz is a Grammy Award-winning rap producer for Jay-Z and Beyoncé; he’s also a recording artist, a record label mogul and the husband of Alicia Keys. What you might not know is that he is also an art collector.

The Dean Collection is the name of Swizz’s art collection, which is filled with artworks by Damien Hirst, Jean Michel-Basquiat, as well as up-and-coming artists like Brooklyn painter Marcus Jahmal and graffiti artist Jamie Evans. Swizz helps artists sell their work with pop-up exhibitions in Miami, Shanghai and New York in an ongoing exhibition series, called No Commission. Swizz doesn’t take a cut from artists and has helped artists sell $4 million worth of art.

While he is busy working on a new album featuring Jadakiss and Styles P, an EP with Bakery and even a Ruff Ryders reunion tour this fall, he was recently in Berlin to kick off the latest No Commission, co-presented with Bacardi. Swizz took some time out to sit down with V to talk about why he loves Berlin, the art world and graduating from Harvard Business School.

Do you really sell art for artists and let them take 100% of the profits?

Yes and the most important thing is the entry point. When you usually buy art, it’s usually a certain type of audience—sterile and stiff. No disrespect to that, but I think the conversation of creativity period should be opened up. Let’s embrace youth and living artists and give them the platform. People say its ‘street art’ but it’s an excuse for people not to spend money. Why not take the artist from the streets—and I don’t even like the term ‘street artist,’ if you’re an artist, you’re an artist period—and put them in a place where they’re shining more brightly than being in a museum. I think artists should be entitled to quality.

How do you decide to buy artwork by young artists?

It’s pure feeling. You might as well take the names off all the stickers because it doesn’t matter to me. The work speaks first. It’s quick. People will tell me to check out the works of others, but just I bought the works of one kid who has a kitchen job. I have to feel it first. Art shouldn’t be about buying it for an investment.

Gallery dealers usually take a 50% cut when they sell art, are you getting some blowback from art galleries? 

I’m not with 50% of anything, whether it’s musically, with artists or fashion. Let’s call it the art business. Do you have business without the artist? No. The artist should have the majority share in everything they’re doing; I don’t care what the situation is. You don’t have a business without the artist. I am not against galleries, I know artists need galleries and galleries need to pay their staff. What I’m saying let’s make the conversation in favor of the artist. I buy art from galleries. But if I can push the artist to come up off their 50%, then it’s a win-win. Let’s make this an educational thing rather than a rivalry thing.

What advice do you have for young artists?

If you are in the art business, you should know the business of art. We have to educate ourselves. If you work in the music business, you should know everything about music; publishing, sales, copyright, then go out in the world and be prepared. But we as artists will always be taken advantage of because some artists say ‘I’m just an artist, this person over here handles the business.’ They wonder why we don’t get what we’re supposed to get. We have to stop using that as the excuse.

How has this changed the way you do business as an artist?

I’m in school now, I study at Harvard Business School and graduate in November. I put myself back in school because I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute, I can’t use this artist shit as an excuse not to get ahead and understand the business.’ I’m uncomfortable with things—the royalties I’m getting, but I can learn how to not be in that situation. You can negotiate for yourself. You can have a lawyer, but even the lawyers you have to watch. Be your own weapon. Be your own protector. That is what I encourage all the artists to do. We are lacking the education of what we love. I just want that to change.

Credits: photographed by nadja sayej

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