Jayson Musson as Hennessey Youngman (above)–for the full YouTube experience click here.
Jayson Musson as Hennessey Youngman is the art exhibition that never seems to stop. It is forever on the Internet (as long as forever is going to be for the Internet) and it gives tours of art galleries, juries exhibitions and does interventions at museums. I am going to assume it a waste of words to have to qualify this ongoing performance as a work of art of the highest and most entertaining caliber even though someone into genres could make a very good case for this being sorted under Sacha Cohen style comedy (Brian Boucher at Art in America already made this comparison, calling Jayson as Hennessey “Ali G with an MFA“–an odd thought when you consider Ali G read history at Cambridge).
The art world (white-walled), both locally and nationally and internationally has readily accepted what Hennssey dishes out–a humorous and sometimes sharp criticism served by an “outsider” addressing the internet at large. Jayson’s videos have been noticed and liked by Jerry Saltz, and have been screened at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery. Hennssey recently juried the annual at Vox Populi, has been invited to conduct an “intervention” for PAFA’s painting and sculpture collection, has been interviewed on numerous online publications– and will be at Frieze Projects in London this October, exhibiting his “paintings” (those quotation marks are Jayson’s). It is the mission of this strung-together set a paragraphs cleverly disguised as an essay (maybe) to point out why Hennessey gives the art world exactly what it has wanted for sometime.
The art world is aware that it is very, very, very, white.
The art world is aware that it is very, very, very, white but it tries to say this in the most mannered way possible (using terms like “the other” and “under represented audiences”). The art world realizes that being very, very, very, white is a problem.
In a 2001 report prepared for the International Art Museums Division Smithsonian Institution entitled “Increasing Museum Visitation by Under Represented Audiences: An Exploratory Study of Art Museum Practices” it was reported that “The local audience (for art museums) under represents African Americans and Latinos living in the Washington Metropolitan. Asian residents are proportionately represented and whites are over represented. The national audience shows a pattern of under and over representation similar to that of the local audience. . . “ When we compare this data to say, recent findings by the PEW in the report “A City Transformed: The Racial and Ethnic Changes in Philadelphia Over the Last 20 years”, where we learn that the city’s (Philadelphia) white population has fallen by nearly a third since 1990 we begin to see how it might be in every museum’s strategic plan to increase participation by minority audiences.
This under representation issue is touched on in a really round-about way in Claire Bishop’s “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics” (which seems to be reaching cult status–at least in Philadelphia, where I have received a PDF from no less then three different reading groups) published in the Fall 2004 edition of October Magazine. In the article C. Bishop discusses how Relational Aesthetics as described by Bourriaud through the work of Rirkit Tiranvanija (specifically speaking the piece where he cooks and gives away pad-thai) does indeed give a group of people a place to gather and have words and relate to each other–but the pad-thai is only ever distributed to a group of like minded people–the kind of people who regularly enter art galleries.
In the article Bishop quotes a bit from Jerry Saltz’s “A Short History of Rirkit Tiravanija” (Art in America, February 1996) that describes the experience of eating pad-thai in the gallery with whoever else was there. The best bit (at least for our purposes) is in her footnotes:
“. . . theoretically anyone can come in (to an art gallery). How come they don’t? Somehow the art world seems to secrete an invisible enzyme that repels outsiders. What would happen if the next time Tiravanija set up a kitchen in an art gallery, a bunch of homeless people turned up daily for lunch? What would the Walker Art Center do if a certain homeless man scraped up the price of admission to the museum, (this concerns another of Tiravanija’s works) and chose to sleep on Tiravanija’s cot all day, every day?”
I am not saying we can substitute the “homeless” with “non-white minority” in the paragraph above–but Saltz’s musing do demonstrate that art galleries and artists are trying to open doors to everyone but not everyone chooses to come in. If you are a person who regularly attends art openings and events you need only look around and see this for yourself.
The art world loves people who hate on it
The art world loves people who hate on it. There is even an art term for this sort of art–Institutional Critique. Many artists have grown famous biting the hands that feed them including Marcel Broodthaers (usually cited as the inventor of this art genre), Hans Haacke (famously pointed out how museums get their monies and questioned their business practices) and Andrea Fraser (whose most famous piece, “Museum Highlights” happened at the PMA. Andrea posed as Jane Castleton, a museum tour guide who took visitors not only to galleries, but also restrooms and talked about not only art, but also corporate and private sponsorship.) New stars of Institutional Critique (arguably Institutional Critique without the institution) include William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton.
From the series “Barack Obama Battles the Pink Robots”
I’m glad Hennssey has finally given the talented Mr. Musson a voice that sticks and gives him art notoriety outside Philadelphia city limits. Jayson has been sticking words together to create brilliant and humorous commentary for sometime. I have found copies of Jayson’s “Too Black for B.E.T“—poster sized commentary scaled down for a book that is a nerdier (more Star Wars and Harry Potter involved) precursor to Hennssey—in many a bathroom (in the original zine form) and even on a couple of bookshelves (the Free News Projects publication). Some Philadelphians may even remember Jayson’s sort lived “Black Like Me” column in the Philadelphia Weekly, or funny yet insightful projects such as “Barrack Obama Battles the Pink Robots“–a set of paintings that only gets better as the reality of Obama’s presidency, and the fact that he is not the perfect super hero who will be able to right all of the wrongs of the world, sets in.
Hennssey is a good argument for getting that MFA–whose value has oft been disputed as late. You can easily imagine the recently certified Musson giving birth to H. Youngman while sitting through a lecture on “The Sublime” or hearing about Bruce Nauman in a group critique one time too many. The art world makes itself an easy target for mockery, it’s good to see someone taking advantage of the situation.