Kasseem Dean, known in the music world as Swizz Beatz, was used to seeing Gordon Parks’ photographs in meetings with business partners and at the homes of friends who were not African American. It was far more unusual to see the artwork in front of the people Parks represented.
“Instead of overthinking it, I thought I could be a part of the change to start supporting our own,” said the rapper and record producer, who over several years acquired the largest private collection of Parks’ works. “We have a hard time supporting our own sometimes because it’s so close to us. We run from it when we should run to it.”
Dean brought 80 pieces to the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Art, where “Gordon Parks: Selections from the Dean Collection” opened two weeks ago. The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, will be on view through July 19.
The Dean Collection showcases Parks’ work from his days taking portraits in early 1940s Chicago to his powerful images of the Civil Rights Movement and of poverty in the U.S. and Brazil. He shot for government agencies and Life magazine, taking intimate photos of regular people, such as families in the segregated South, and celebrities such as boxing great Muhammad Ali alike.
“Art is not meant to be in your personal space,” said Dean in a telephone interview when asked what prompted him to put the collection in an educational setting. “I feel like it’s our responsibility as collectors to put many eyes on the artwork we collect because it helps the artist. Even Gordon Parks — he was so ahead of his time that a lot of people from this generation don’t understand who he was. This is where the Dean Collection and the Gordon Parks Foundation coming together makes sense. They have a plan where they see his legacy go, and we’re only a part of it. I don’t think this collection will ever come home. I plan on it being always on the road.”