Art Life, Sound Off

Bronx Rising: No Commission and the Politics of Ownership

Sway may not have had the answers for Kanye when it came to finding a Medici family to support his dreams of creating art freely outside of the confines of rhymes, beats and breaks. However, hip hop artist & producer Swizz Beatz and his Dean Collection are fulfilling this patronage act in an unexpected arena- the high-brow world of art dealing. Through his No Commission: Art Performs series, Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean is helping both established and emerging artists like Swoon and Delphine Diallo bypass “the man” in the form of sales & gallery representation by empowering artists to display and sell their work directly to the highest stakeholders with no frills attached.

The radical factor which some view as naive is that zero costs are associated with being included in his tightly curated shows along with having 100% of proceeds go straight to the artists’ pockets. Swizz’s philosophy behind this experimental model, “If you free the artist, you free the world,” stems from the idea of allowing living, working artists to enjoy the fruits of their labor in their current moments rather than wait until value fully appreciates over time, which history has shown may be eons after the life of an artist.

What’s more interesting about Swizz Beatz’s take is that he returned back to his hometown of the South Bronx after successfully launching at Art Basel last December to display a global sampling of artistic expressions fusing both “high and low” cultures in the structure of a free, four-day art & music festival. Not wrought without controversy, hosting this art fair in a building owned by developer Keith Rubenstein in Mott Haven, a section of the South Bronx being steadily gentrified with only a couple of Bronx natives included in the show, mirrored a similar disruption when the cross-pollinated sounds of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue first broke out of the corners of project walls to take the world by storm. Inclusion is always a hotbed of a subject because there is never a satisfactory nerve ending that fully triggers the life cycle of understanding between the haves & have nots, the native vs. the transplant, influence vs. appropriation and all other ramifications that occur when any form of culture meets mass appeal.


Q-Tip & Swizz Beatz warming up the crowd on Day 3 of No Commission: Art Performs

Would a strictly “for us, by us” approach to the show in the South Bronx have been more appropriate? Was bringing the world back to The Bronx, a place that has added so much value to the global conversation of music and art while receiving very little in return, not enough? Would picking a less controversial space have made as much of a wave when tackling sizeable issues such as artist exploitation, cultural appropriation and commercialization?

Like Sway, I don’t have the answers. What I will say is, I was very inspired to see so many diverse faces who ordinarily wouldn’t have dared to make the trek Uptown to revel in the dream of one of the South Bronx’s native sons. On the flip side, I was also equally impressed to see so many faces who wouldn’t normally feel comfortable frequenting art gallery events. #NoCommission was an affair that was just as sophisticated as a small-scale Art Basel meets Afropunk with an unapologetic Bronx swagger. It placed a focus on artists and community members alike who are often marginalized due to being on the fringes of access, privilege and capital.  And to these points, I raise a glass to the next round and beat drop signaling, “It’s Showtime!”

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Photography: Cesarin Mateo

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