In the early 2000s, Kasseem Dean – better known as Swizz Beatz – produced a string of hits for some of today’s most successful hip-hop artists, including Jay Z, T.I., and Beyoncé. Thanks in part to the success of these musical artists and the exposure he received as a result, Dean started collecting artwork from some of the world’s most prominent visual artists. As Nate Freeman reports in ARTnews, Dean’s past purchases have included “the likes of Chagall, Miró, Basquiat, and Warhol.” However, while the work gracing the walls of his home may impress visitors and portray a certain high-culture status, Dean has decided to turn more towards art that he personally connects with, rather than art that experts and history tells him is valuable.
Enter Sotheby’s and their collaboration with Dean in his new project – #TheUnknowns at S|2. In an interview with ARTnews and in the show’s wall text, Dean wants to convey the artistic value of little-known artists he found on Instagram. By using social media, Dean could communicate with artists genuinely and directly. This way, he says, selecting work “didn’t…feel like the lottery” and “wasn’t over-promoted.” At this show, then, audiences will be seeing work by unfamiliar names and, in doing so, be forced to judge it based on quality and gut feeling rather than previous knowledge.
On the receiving end of Dean’s search are artists on Instagram who can essentially represent themselves and their work any way that they want to rather than jockeying for gallery representation or struggling to be featured in a show. For artists still looking for success and way to break into the art world, Instagram allows them to show their work to more people than would otherwise see it locked up in a studio. With this project, Dean is acknowledging social media as a valuable resource and breaking down the perceived barrier between unknown artists and major arts organizations that historically revert to established names and reputations.
In drawing from talent “tucked into some barely-liked corner of Instagram,” Dean aims to convince people who may not otherwise be art buyers that there is in fact an “entry point into these galleries and into these museums and into these auction houses” no matter how intimidating or high-brow they may seem. Dean admits that the show isn’t completely perfect and calls for some slight changes, but he hopes, at least, to encourage a broader audience (whether seasoned buyers or new ones just starting out) to buy work they connect with, rather than work they feel obligated to enjoy.