Review: ‘Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys’ is a celebration of diversity

Three people around a museum exhibit with blue walls displaying a photo of a person sitting at a graffitied piano and a photo of a woman, a man and a dog with a bike. Two neon bikes and a piano are on a raised platform in front of the photos.

Followed by American singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye’s music, visitors will come upon musical instruments owned by couple Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, such as a piano and turntables. Just a few seconds into the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition, viewers will be transported into the realm of legacy artists and long-standing pioneers of the music industry.

The exhibition — titled “Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys” and curated by Kimberli Gant — graciously showcases the vast art collection of Keys and Beatz. Keys, a 16-time Grammy-winning artist, and Beatz, an acclaimed producer and rapper, are considered giants in the music industry, hence the name of the gallery.

Located in the Great Hall on the museum’s first floor, the exhibition features 100 works from various Black artists. From Ernie Barnes to Nina Chanel Abney, the exhibition pays thoughtful tribute to many of the “giant” artists that have had long-lasting, substantial influence on the art scene.

The exhibition makes an effort to combine and uplift many diverse forms of art — including music, literature, sculpture, painting, photography, collage and other forms of art. Given this range, it’s nearly impossible to leave feeling uninspired.

The collection is organized by artists, including Barnes, who is a personal friend of Keys and Beatz. Barnes’ 2006 piece “Study for Spoken Word” is prominently featured. The charcoal illustration depicts a woman with a strong figure wearing a white dress, with a bookcase behind her. She stands at a podium holding a book up while her mouth is open, reading it out loud. Hands are drawn extending from the books behind her, appearing to be clapping in praise to her recitation. The illustration’s label claims that “the work is a celebration of the power of the written word, especially those by historical Black writers.” This work masterfully celebrates other mediums of art and the deep cultures behind them.

Once you pass Barnes’ section, you immediately enter a room featuring the work of Kwame Brathwaite. Not only are the essences of these artists’ giant, but their work also takes up a lot of physical space. Three of Brathwaite’s works, all of which are untitled, are displayed next to one another, filling at least one third of the long wall. All three pieces showcase Black models against vibrant backgrounds, wearing stunning and funky jewels and colorful, patterned clothing made by Black designers and natural hair. These photographs celebrate the beauty of Black art and culture.

Two sections after Brathwaite’s work, visitors enter a hallway featuring the photography of Gordon Parks. Although both Brathwaite and Parks share the mission to uplift underrepresented voices, they do so differently.

Parks’ photos hang against a bright blue background. In the center of one wall of the hall is a colored photograph of the 1963 March on Washington. This centerpiece is surrounded by gray-scale photos of Black changemakers.

With just 100 pieces, the collection breathes life into history that is often forgotten. In a promotional video, Keys states that their mission with this exhibition is to inspire people and allow audiences to see themselves within the art, saying, “We want you to see that you are also a giant.”

The collection encompasses the joy, suffering, pride and pain embedded in the work and history of Black artists across many cultures, encouraging visitors to learn from them. With the diversity of the form, content and history of all the pieces, audiences are inspired to embrace their identities as giants.

“Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys” is on display at the Brooklyn Museum through July 7.

Contact Skylar Boilard at

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