Producer, Rapper, Art Dealer: Inside Swizz Beatz’ ‘No Commission’ at Art Basel Miami
When producer and rapper Swizz Beatz (@therealswizzz) needs to relax, he grabs a paintbrush.
“It’s my therapy,” the Bronx-born beat-maker says. “I’ve never sold my paintings, I just give them away to charity and hospitals.”
Now it’s time to add art dealer to his list of titles. Swizz is currently in Miami for Art Basel, where he’s dipping his toes into direct art-selling for the first time through a fair he organized called “No Commission.” It’s free for the public to come and enjoy, complete with a nightly concert series featuring performances from his wife Alicia Keys, along with A-Trak, and Swizz himself. Best of all? The artists featured are selling their works for their own prices, and they keep 100 percent of the profits. Swizz literally takes no commission. He’s not trying to upset the current art market or take on some money-grubbing establishment. He just realizes his successes and cultural iconography lend him a special opportunity to help others.
“I wanted to build it as a celebration to and for the artists,” says Swizz, who is also a board member of the Brooklyn Museum. “We can have the artists curate their own pieces that they want to put in the show. It’s like everybody coming together and just having fun — and there’s no politics and side business involved. I think sometimes people need to have that breakthrough.”
No Commission is the end game of a long love and appreciation for visual arts. Swizz purchased his first paintings when he was 19. Back then he was buying major works — stuff by Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol. He followed trends and saw paintings as investments, always reaching for what would be worth the most in years to come. Then he started traveling more, discovering new artists that maybe didn’t have the name but gave him a gut reaction, and soon his whole approach to the art world changed.
“If I don’t feel it, I don’t get it,” he says, “and it could be something that nobody is paying attention to. I might feel that and say, ‘You know what? I know this is going to be worth a billion dollars later, but I like this piece right here that’s not being showcased.’ Or, sometimes it is a piece that’s expensive that I like. It’s all about the feeling.”
When his children were born, he started collecting with a purpose, creating The Dean Collection (Dean is his familial last name) and he began sharing his findings online. In fact, most of his artistic discovery now happens through social media, where the simple act of sharing work in his Dean Collection feeds sometimes helps unknown artists with sales.
“I didn’t know I was helping the artist until the artist started telling me like, ‘Man, you helped me make 16 sales or 5 sales’ or this and that,” he says. “A lot of them are my friends, and I have a lot of relationships I can pass them on to these artists with nothing in return.”
It was these interactions with his Dean Collection friends that led to No Commission’s birth. Swizz doesn’t own these particular pieces on display, but most of the artists featured are artists he currently collects. They know his kids; his kids know them. They’ve become one big, happy, arty family. He put established artists like Shepard Fairey and Kehinde Wiley right next to up and comers from all around the world, and he did the same with the musical artists of the No Commission concert series. Pieces are being sold, the artists are getting their play, and everyone is loving it — even the heads of the big commission-taking galleries and auctioneers.
“I know people from the streets are going to feel that, but to have people from big, big organizations and big committees … to have people that are really responsible for saying yes and no to certain things — they didn’t fight it,” he says. “It’s something that people would usually go against. My show is called No Commission, and to have many a gallery owner come, it’s a very friendly thing.”
No Commission ends on December 5 in Miami.
—Kat Bein for Instagram @music