Jayson Musson interview

Jayson Musson in conversation with Josh Kline of EAI on Tuesday night (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Jayson Musson aka Hennessy Youngman aka Mr. AKA’s might proclaim himself to be many things (including Mitt Romney’s drug dealer), but Tuesday night at Electronic Arts Intermix’s (EAI) screening of his web series Art Thoughtz, Musson seemed reluctant to embrace his identity as an art world celebrity. He pointed to the fact that in total, his videos had only received under one million views, which is nothing special in comparison with other YouTube video stars and rather small compared to the truly huge video acts.

“The incalculable immensity that will allow me to grasp the finite nature of my own being, y’know what I’m saying?”

And yet, despite his relative insignificance on the world wide web, there he was, in front of a live audience, accepting institutional recognition and an offer to preserve his work in perpetuity offline. (Art Thoughtz is now available through EAI’s distribution service as a hard copy, and an archival purchase of Musson’s best videos, “How to Make Art,” “On Beauty” or “Relational Aesthetics,” costs around $1,000.) Though he started Art Thoughtz on a whim and with nothing more than a webcam, Musson is now more than just a dude on YouTube; he is a prominent voice of the art world on the internet, an embodiment of the changing parameters for success. Although he claims to have no long-term plans, so far he’s been able to parlay his achievements online into ones IRL: a recent curatorial project for Maurizio Cattelan’s Family Business gallery, an upcoming show at a New York gallery and a children’s book to be finished by the end of the month.

"Art Thoughtz" screening at EAI

Watching “Art Thoughtz” at EAI

Musson’s real-life humility seems perfectly incongruous with his alter ego’s self-aggrandizing persona. Whereas Hennessy Youngman has no qualms about addressing “the internet” at large, Musson seems aware that his reach is actually quite limited. While at first Art Thoughtz might come off as an attempt to make obscure art world ideologies approachable, Musson made it clear while speaking Tuesday night that he didn’t intend for the series to be some sort of populist project. For one, he originally made the videos to be seen in a gallery context, and he doesn’t think the YouTube platform matters, including its comment system (something Will Brand pondered in his write-up on Musson’s EAI inclusion). Musson might care less about his notoriety on the internet given that his primary goal is to be taken seriously as a painter, but his web success has certainly opened doors, and I don’t think he should shy away from claiming to have contributed to a cultural discourse that reaches beyond the art world proper.

The most interesting part of Musson’s shtick is that his critique of MFA-level art world dialogue also serves to highlight the dearth of high-minded content on YouTube and other web video sites. I see Hennessy Youngman as a jester of two courts: the art world, of course, which takes itself too seriously and where laughter is much needed; and web culture, a realm that has become incalculably important, but also known for tomfoolery that rarely demands the intellectual effort often required by fine art. Musson seems to play with the notion that a YouTube video, let alone a meme image, could function as a work of art. He mocks the impossibility of finding (on the internet) some deep insight into the human condition or anything close to the sublime as described by Hennessy Youngman: “The incalculable immensity that will allow me to grasp the finite nature of my own being, y’know what I’m saying?”

Musson and the crowd at EAI

Musson and the crowd at EAI

With this in mind, I felt the need to ask Musson a very stupid question: Would you rather have an art-related show on MTV or a solo exhibition at MoMA? “MoMA?!” he retorted, implying that I’d hardly suggested an alternative to the mainstream. So instead I offered the permanent collection at the Met. Musson responded by saying that MTV sucked, and proceeded to discuss the pitfalls of pop culture celebrity, which was encouraging to hear. His idea of “real world” success is finding a place where Jayson, not Hennessy, can make it. And though I wouldn’t mind watching Hennessy Youngman host a Yo! MTV Raps edition of Art Thoughtz, I bet finding a piece by Jayson Musson in a corner of the Met would be better than a double rainbow.

Robert Cicetti

※Find me on Foursquare. Twitter: @iberob. Instagram: @iberob.

16 replies on “MTV Sucks and Other Thoughtz from an Art Micro-celebrity”

      1. Hennessy Youngman is not ripping off Ali G. They both use comedy and and wear chains, but Ali G never says anything, he just rambles and makes a fool out of himself and his guests, whereas Hennessy Youngman is actually quiet eloquent when he speaks and his observations are well informed.

          1. The similarity certainly ends right there. Good job.
            Jean Paul Sartre and Flannery O’Connor were both wall-eyed.

    1. Ew. NOT. Sacha Baron Chohen’s Ali G. is not funny, not clever, not insightful… SBC is stupid stuff.

      1. The fake hip hop persona shtick has been done many times before. It is a device that Musson uses to indirectly address formidable topics he is probably not comfortable tackling on video sans the Hennessy Youngman character. It would be egregiously ignorant to believe that Hennessy Youngman is at all sui generis.

        1. HY has nothing to do with SBC. But no character or creation is “sui generis” — which is a good thing.

  1. sorry to be nit picky but “How to Make An Art”–you left off the “an.” [it’s one of the things that makes that one so particularly great]

    1. We actually don’t capitalize “internet,” but thanks, Michael. (You’d make a good copyeditor, if you’re not one already.)

  2. H.Y.’s videos are borderline genius. They are funny, sharp, spot on—as a general rule.
    BUT… if Jayson Musson’s “primary goal is to be taken seriously as a painter” he might consider making a few **SERIOUS** paintings. It’s just a THOUGHT(Z).

  3. Nice piece. I think Musson is no way a better artist than Youngman: Youngman SHOULD be in museums, Musson is all over the map and the jury is out, but I suspect that Jayson Musson will have to face it someday, he’s a better writer and performance and video artist than a painter. Ho hum. Painters are a dime a dozen anyway.

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