Alicia Keys Shares Her Tips for Starting Your Own Art Collection

giants art from the dean collection of swizz beatz and alicia keys
Alicia Keys Reveals Her Tips for Collecting Art Shareif Ziyadat - Getty Images

With more than 270 awards to her credit, Alicia Keys may be one of the most decorated singer-songwriters of all time. But the list of the visual artists she collects with her husband, the producer and rapper Kasseem Dean—aka Swizz Beatz—is equally impressive: Nick Cave, Kehinde Wiley, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Gordon Parks, to name just a few. The collection is so illustrious and so deep that it’s the subject of an entire exhibition, “Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys,” now on view at the Brooklyn Museum. The show, for which ELLE DECOR is a media partner, not only solidifies the pair as powerhouse collectors, but also puts forth a new and compelling Black canon.

giants art from the dean collection of swizz beatz and alicia keys
Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz at the opening of their show at the Brooklyn Museum. WWD - Getty Images

But the pair had to start somewhere. For Dean, it was with a work by the great American landscape photographer Ansel Adams; for Keys, it was a piece by the Russian Art Deco artist and designer Erté. “We collect from a place of emotional connection,” she said in remarks shared with ELLE DECOR.

Keys and Dean recently teamed up with Pinterest to curate special boards devoted to some of the most important Black artists working today. To mark the occasion, Keys, in a statement, revealed her top tips for establishing your own museum-worthy art collection.

Discover What You Actually Like

Before you start collecting, Keys says, it’s important to identify what you really love. “Ask yourself, What is it that you are into? Are you into photography? Are you into landscapes?” she shares. In Keys’s case, it was a love affair with the work of Erté. “I actually saw this Erté piece that had like this woman carried in this carriage, and it’s so beautiful it has umbrellas over her,” she says. “I was motivated because of the way that it made me feel. It was the way that maybe I was yearning to be treated or adored in this way…to this day. I’m so happy that it was my first piece.”

Get Curious

Whether you’re looking to collect the work of blue-chip artists or to discover the next big thing, do your research. In fact, Keys attributes the depth of her and her husband’s collection to their insatiable curiosity. Go to art shows and fairs. Scope out local art and design galleries. “There’s so many amazing galleries all over the country, all over the world, and you can go there and just ask questions and start to see different people’s styles,” she says. “Slowly but surely you’ll start to see, like, Wow, this person is very consistent and I love the way they paint.”

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A museumgoer takes in works by Ebony G. Patterson. TIMOTHY A. CLARY - Getty Images

Never forget, too, that much of this information is already, quite literally, in the palm of your hand: “Searching them even on social is a really cool way to just get a sense for their work and for how it moves you and how it speaks to you,” Keys adds.

When Displaying Art, Think About Your Space’s Personality

So you’ve bought pieces you love. Now comes the tricky part: Figuring out where in your home to put them. For Keys, determining how you showcase your collection is about what’s aesthetically pleasing, but also what vibe a piece can bring out in a space. “There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s such a creative experience, but I do think it wants to match the energy of the room,” the singer-songwriter shares. In her kids’ rooms, for instance, she’ll hang works that depict children, “because it’s like it can relate to them, and when they see it they can feel connected to it.”

giants art from the dean collection of swizz beatz and alicia keys
The show includes a portrait of Keys, as painted by artist Kehinde Wiley. WWD - Getty Images

Never Buy Art Because of the Investment

Sure, art can be an investment that pays off in the long term (we’ve all seen Antiques Roadshow), but that’s not the way to build a truly quality collection, Keys insists. “Swizz would definitely say, ‘Don’t buy things because someone told you you’re supposed to buy it,’ or ‘Don’t get something because you think it’s some big monetary play,’” Keys says. “Do it because it speaks to a part of your life that you could never put into words. Do it because it reminds you of your grandmother. Do it because it’s personal.”

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