Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Court Jester Art Establishment Embraces Critic with Insider Cred and Outsider Attitude

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Court Jester Art Establishment Embraces Critic with Insider Cred and Outsider Attitude

Article excerpt

When Damien Hirst's spot paintings opened at 11 Gagosian galleries worldwide in January, critics busied themselves redrawing many of the familiar battle lines that have helped Mr. Hirst become very rich.

Meanwhile, a YouTube video critique featuring Hennessy Youngman, a video character who wears a goofy baseball cap and layers of gold chains, was going viral in the art world, mixing hip-hip lingo and profanity with high-minded art criticism.

"I understand that, as an artist, if you actually touch your own artwork, the value of said artwork is severely depreciated," he says wryly about Mr. Hirst's paintings, which are made by assistants and can sell for millions of dollars.

The video was part of a YouTube series called "Art Thoughtz" created by and starring a Brooklyn artist named Jayson Musson. (The character Hennessy Youngman, he said, is a reference to the stand- up comic and Hennessy cognac, a favorite reference in hip-hop music.) His roughly two dozen videos on topics like "relational aesthetics," "the sublime" and "Poetic Waxin' " have made him something of a court jester to the art establishment.

Mr. Musson's following isn't enormous: His videos have received nearly 770,000 views since April 2010. But his following is well placed. Art in America described him as "Ali G with an MFA." ArtNet, an art market website, called him "George Carlin and Paul Mooney rolled into one." The Huffington Post described the videos as work "through which serious criticism flows with a sick beat."

"Everyone sees it as a real, critical performance, and a lot of that is because most of his audience is right here in the art world," said Naomi Beckwith, a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, which has twice invited Mr. Musson to lecture in character. "They get it," she said. "They understand that the character that's speaking shouldn't have access to that knowledge, so therefore there must be some kind of subterfuge going on."

The videos are funny partly because they are incongruous: insightful jabs made by a hip-hop personality whose faux-outsider perspective is intended to challenge the art world's pretensions and inaccessibility. …

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