Yasiin Bey, Formerly Known as Mos Def, Is Opening a Gallery in the South Bronx to Fuse Art and Hip-Hop

Retired hip-hop star Mos Def and advertising executive Free Richardson are opening a gallery in the South Bronx next month called The Compound. The space, located in the neighborhood real-estate developers are rebranding the “Piano District,” will host an eclectic visual arts, performance, design, and film program that aims to bridge hip-hop and fine art.

“The gallery will serve as a space for all mediums of art,” Yasiin Bey, which is the legal name of retired rapper Mos Def, told artnet News. “Free will run day-to-day operations alongside staff and I will bring in curatorial and special projects.”

Richardson and Bey chose the Bronx partly for its deep links to early hip-hop culture. The first show, in mid-August, will be an exhibition of work by Jonathan Mannion, who has been photographing rap legends such as Jay-Z, Eminem, Busta Rhymes, and Nas since the 1990s.

Hip-hop and art have a stylistic convergence, Richardson says, and it’s rarely recognized by the art establishment. “For me everything is art,” Richardson told artnet News. “What often happens is that certain artists don’t get a fair chance, and a lot of galleries don’t accept certain artists. The whole blue-chip world isn’t fair because certain artists that are just as good will never be accepted.”

Richardson cites KAWSJean-Michel BasquiatKeith Haring, and Futura as examples of artists that have broken down the barrier between the street and the fine art gallery. He hopes he can unearth the next big name to add to that list by providing a platform for artists in a borough that has few venues for showing art.

The idea for the gallery emerged out of another Bronx-based space called The Compound, a studio and workshop facility that Richardson opened in 2008. Details for the new gallery’s exhibition schedule are still being finalized, but Bey says that, unlike the older Compound, it will focus solely on exhibitions. For now, it will not represent artists.

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