Alicia Keys & Swizz Beatz unveils their private collection of Gordon Parks photographs

Covering the career of the legendary photographer Gordon Parks, and unveiling the incredible private collection of one of the most famous couples in the music industry, the exhibition “Gordon Parks: Selections from the Dean Collection” is this spring’s event.

Presented at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center, co-organized by the Gordon Parks Foundation in cooperation with consulting curator Dr. Maurice Berger.  The exhibition “Gordon Parks: Selections from the Dean Collection” features for the first time a range of works from the collection of Kasseem Dean and Alicia Keys, who own the largest private holdings of photographs by Gordon Parks.

Gordon Parks'Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping', Mobile, Alabama, 1956 Copyright and courtesy of the Gordon Parks Foundation
Gordon Parks ‘Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping’, Mobile, Alabama, 1956 – Copyright and courtesy of the Gordon Parks Foundation

“Gordon Parks was a major artist of the 20th century, whose work, with its journalistic precision and sublime artistry, shines a light on individuals and stories that were—and still are— too often hidden and overlooked.”— said, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research

Bestselling author of novels and memoirs, deceased on 7 March 2006.  Gordon Parks has directed television programs, Hollywood movies, and composed film scores. But arguably it was his photographs that made the greatest cultural impact. Born into poverty and segregation in Kansas in 1912, Parks was drawn to photography as a young man when he saw images of migrant workers published in a magazine. After buying a camera at a pawnshop, he taught himself how to use it and despite his lack of professional training, he found employment with the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which was then chronicling the nation’s social conditions.

Parks quickly developed a style that would make him one of the most celebrated photographers of his age, allowing him to break the color line in professional photography while creating remarkably expressive images that consistently explored the social and economic impact of racism. Using his camera as his “weapon of choice”as he called it, to combat injustice. Armed with astonishing talent, a keen eye, and a limitless capacity for empathy, he created images that alter the way we view one other and, ultimately, ourselves.

Gordon Parks, New York,1985 4 x 5 transparency film © Carlos Eguiguren
Gordon Parks, New York,1985 – 4 x 5 transparency film © Carlos Eguiguren

Dr. Maurice Berger, the consulting curator, writes in the exhibition’s introductory text: “’People need to see this type of greatness to inspire themselves,’ Kasseem Dean has said of Parks’ work. It is fitting that the Deans have embraced his photographs. In their own work—as musicians and producers—they exemplify the power of art to transform, motivate, and enlighten. Gordon Parks: Selections from the Dean Collection attests to the photographer’s transformative role in 20th-century art, as a master storyteller who helped change the world, one commanding image at a time.”

Photo: Melissa Blackall, Courtesy of the Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art
Photo: Melissa Blackall, Courtesy of the Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art

The Dean Collection’s holdings span Parks’ entire career—from his civil rights era images to fashion photography to portraits to lesser-known works. For several years, Keys and Dean have served as co-chairs of the annual Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Gala, and at last year’s event they announced this incredible acquisition of 80 works by Gordon Parks in their private collection.

Founded by Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean and his wife Alicia Keys in 2014, “The Dean Collection” is a contemporary family collection and cultural platform that organizes artist support initiatives such as the No Commission art and music festival and TDC 20, both designed to fund artists’ practices and projects. The collection actively acquires, and commissions, work by contemporary visual artists such as Derrick Adams, Nina Chanel Abney, Jordan Casteel, Nick Cave, Arthur Jafa, KAWS, Deana Lawson, Ebony G. Patterson, Kehinde Wiley, and many others. The collection of the two celebrities has grown steadily and has become even more prestigious by becoming the largest privately-owned body of work by Gordon Parks.

Melissa Blackall, Courtesy of the Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, artskop
Photo: Melissa Blackall, Courtesy of the Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art

The current exhibition thus presents for the first time, a wide range of the works acquired by the couple. Among the exhibits are several portraits of artists and prominent personalities, such as Langston Hughes and Alberto Giacometti, as well documentation of historic civil rights protests, including the 1963 March on Washington; intimate scenes from everyday life, images of the daily rituals and challenges of a Harlem family, snapshots of the life of a 12-year-old boy struggling to survive in a ramshackle favela in the hills outside Rio de Janeiro; or the fascinating visual retelling of Ralph Ellison’s epochal novel “Invisible Man”, as well as images of life in Jim Crow-era rural Alabama, fashion pictures, and documentary photographs, along with many lesser- known images.


Gordon Parks'Untitled, Miami', Florida, 1966
Gordon Parks ‘Untitled, Miami’, Florida, 1966 – Copyright and courtesy of the Gordon Parks Foundation

“The Deans have been important champions of the work of Gordon Parks, and this exhibition is an opportunity to share his work with a broader audience through the outstanding platform offered byHarvard University,” said Peter W. Kunhardt Jr., Executive Director of the Gordon Parks Foundation.“The exhibition additionally builds on the Foundation’s strong history of collaborative programming with leading institutions in the mounting of exhibitions, conferral of scholarships, and mounting of public programs that engage the public with Parks’ legacy.”

With this new major exhibition, the Gordon Parks Foundation once again confirms its mission to permanently preserve Gordon Parks’ work, to make it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media, and support artistic and educational activities that advance what Parks described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.” With an exhibition space in Pleasantville, New York, The Gordon Parks Foundation presents focused presentations of Parks’ photography, as well as the work of other artists influenced by his legacy.


The exhibition “Gordon Parks: Selections from the Dean Collection” is on view through July 19, 2019

More details HERE

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