November 30, 2012 Repository 37: The Reticent Institutional Critic Posted In: art practice, contemporary art

I just returned from a lecture by Jayson Musson known mostly as his you tube alter ego Hennessy Youngman. His you tube missives are inspired by comedy, black comedy to be specific (perhaps Sacha Baron Cohen to an extent) the subject matter is art theory and practice. The posts are very popular, and I can see why any bleary eyed MFA candidate, or weary art school administer might find funny. Frankly they are sexist, racist and perpetuate a lot of the stereotypes that are ridiculously played out in other venues such as run of the mill TV and movies. And just like comedy, despite their insults the you tube clips will illicit a laugh even from the most principled. If you can at least view one, I’d recommend “how to make an art“.

The lecture was at the local art college, which itself is a fun peer into the world of the art student. This never ceases to amuse me, and frustrate me to no end. One of the questions to Jason, a black man who admittedly is not wealthy, a student asks “what is it like to make art for people who aren’t like you?” The question alone illustrates perfectly what an island these poor students are living on.

After flying through the slides of his career thus far we learn about a series called “after lollipop”, porn stills with powder puff girl stills, a series of paintings called “Barrack Obama battles the pink robots”, and a series of Tshirts including one with large letters saying “please tell me more about your job”, and one with a picture of a turtle with a klu klux klan hat saying “slow and steady wins the race. After that there were several you tube clips of Hennessy Youngman pieces, a Katt Williams piece unrelated to his work, and some screen shots of Daniel Craig and Ryan Gosling. (?!)

The graduate school paintings he did in tempera were a poorly painted suite of works inspired by Raymond Pettibon, Layla Ali and Barry McGee. He spoke about his Hennessy Youngman character and how he found his playing this character appropriate given that he “doesn’t have the pedigree to speak this language” this language referencing art historical and art practice. But he HAS his MFA – how on earth does he not have a pedigree to discuss this? Much like a dentist going through dental school, graduating successfully and saying, I can’t really look into your mouth and inspect your teeth.

Despite his you tube fame, I would suggest that his real accomplishment was his participation in a project at the Family Business Gallery (of Maurizio Cattelan’s co-founding). It’s not clear how he was selected to help out, but Marylyn Minter curated a show there of New York artist virgins, so hundreds of people sent their art work to be shown at this gallery in Chelsea, a few doors down from Gagosian. A fabulous gesture, Jerry Saltz reports here. He helped to install the work, and received a Dominos pizza from an artist friend in Portland, which apparently showed up on the Portland artist’s CV as a performance piece. Clever and lame all at once – the proverbial mini lob over the net.

In sum, I have no idea what this artist is standing for, his oeuvre is veering on the ridiculous, and somehow the art establishment has embraced him fully (Artforum, blah and blah). While in grad school he made a painting with three scrappy marks on it and the words “painting is dead, please don’t debate me on this.” He also mentioned not intending to do some “conceptual jerk off piece” at the Family Business Gallery. Why not? Maurizio Catalan is the god father of conceptual jerk off pieces thank you very much). So to complete the lecture he showed us his slides of recent work – sweaters normally worn by wealthy black men, deconstructed and turned into paintings that HE is sewing in place. How is this not a conceptual jerk off piece? My suggestion to Jayson is to own it, don’t deny it.

And when fumbling around about why art? What art? And how? A quote from one if my favorite artists who consistently turned art inside out in the most eloquent ways:

Art is not some inspiration that comes from who knows where, takes a random course, and presents nothing but the picturesque exterior of things. Art is logic per de, adorned by genius, but following the path of necessity, and informed by the highest laws. – Yves Klein

And yes the art system absolutely needs ridicule, so to that end, I hope Hennessy continues with his missives, and maybe even critique Jayson’s work;)

Photo by Natasha Philips for Interview Magazine

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