Savvy Investors Are Collecting Works By Artists Of Color And Living Like Kings

Janel St. John
Written by Janel St. John
Artists Of Color
“Past Times,” a painting by Kerry James Marshall, sold for $21.1 million on Wednesday to the music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs. Credit: Sotheby’s

They are the three most influential musicians in America… and they’re also the three richest.

In his new book, “3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, and Hip-Hop’s Multibillion-Dollar Revolution,” Zack O’Malley Greenburg details the strategic decisions and business deals that transformed these dynamic artists into business tycoons — amassing levels of fame and wealth stratospheres above their contemporaries.

With a combined net worth of well over $2 billion, the genius entrepreneurs are bona fide multifaceted businessmen. In his examination of the business savvy of the reigning kings of hip hop, Greenberg, a senior editor at Forbes, points to intuition and diversification.

Beyond Grammy awards, Sean “Diddy” Combs has multiple business ventures, assets and investments that include TV, apparel, tech, vodka and also contemporary art.


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In 2018, Combs paid $21.1 million for Kerry James Marshall’s “Past Times” (1997). The grand scale painting depicts an African American family at leisure in a park. The history-making purchase set a new benchmark, becoming the highest price ever paid for an artwork by a living African-American artist.

Yet it was fellow hip-hop producer and art collector, Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, who introduced Diddy to Marshall’s work. Also a Grammy-winning music producer and graduate of Harvard Business School, Beatz is a power broker who produces art fairs in his Bronx hometown and serves on the Board of Trustees at the Brooklyn Museum.

Collecting works by living African-American artists is key. They comprise a great deal of his Dean Collection, built over a decade, with his wife, Alicia Keys, and recently shared in a New York Times Style Magazine feature.

While the leading king of net worth – Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter — and his wife, Beyonce have not officially shared their art collection, home video stills and blog posts show they own a great deal of works by artists of color.

In “Picasso Baby”, Jay Z rapped about wanting “a Picasso in my casa.” He actually plunked down $4.5 million in 2013 for “Mecca,” a 1985 work by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988), the Black graffiti artist who became the
No. 1 selling American artist. A Basquiat artwork sold in 2017 for a record-shattering $110.5 million!

Jay-Z’s mother-in-law, however, was very forthcoming about her art. Tina Knowles Lawson recently opened the doors of her Hollywood home to share her Black art collection with Vanity Fair.

The biggest moguls in America — and their mommas — are investing in artwork by artists of color. And they’re not the only ones. Museums across the U.S., now realize they’ve been behind the curve in supporting, collecting
and exhibiting work by artists of color. So they are making great expenditures to try to make up for what has been gross neglect of the Black figure in museum collections.

The Broad art museum in Los Angeles paid nearly $12 million dollars in 2018 for Mark Bradford’s “Helter Skelter I” (2007). The monumental 34-foot, mixed-media collage was put up for sale by collector and retired tennis champion John McEnroe.

The Perez Art Museum Miami recently established a $1.1 million fund to acquire Black art. And the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, has, over the past few years, transferred through gifts and purchase, more than 300 works by 30 black self-taught artists, to 12 leading U.S. museums. The most recent round of acquisitions are valued at roughly $1.6 million.

This awakening of interest in Black art from museums trying to be inclusive and diverse, combined with celebrity buyers — from hip-hop entrepreneurs to Leonardo DiCaprio and Anderson Cooper – has created a virtual “gold rush.”

Contemporary Black art is the newest commodity. Artists of color — historically overlooked and undervalued — now have one of the hottest corners of the market.

Janel St. John is the founder of The Conscious Voice Magazine.