By Martyna Majewska
It’s almost end of term and things are getting rather hectic. If it’s not your dissertation deadline looming large, it’s probably a test, some ten essays to whip up, and possibly job applications to send out. To make matters worse, you might be applying to a gallery owned by someone implicated in the Panama Papers scandal. Yes, the art world is corrupt and right now – as you’re getting through piles of books and suffering from caffeine overdose – it may seem that all this effort makes little sense. I reckon you’ve already got a long list of preferred distractions, but if you’re longing for something that will make all things artsy appear less serious and thus take some pressure of your shoulders, I recommend exploring (or returning to) ‘Art Thoughtz,’ the Youtube channel of Hennessy Youngman.
I suppose many of you are familiar with his work, but I actually only found out about him while I was studying in America, where he is a real art-world celebrity, albeit not the Jeff Koons type of celebrity. Let me start from the beginning. Hennessy Youngman is actually a persona created by artist Jayson Musson. Although he hasn’t been posting for a while, his channel is still working and you can access all of his videos. In each of them, Hennessy, a rapper-like artist-turned-educator, addresses ‘the Internet’ to explain one issue connected with art-making or art criticism. His satirical speeches mock artists, collectors, and museum-goers, often all at once. Not only does Youngman expose the ridiculous elitism of his artistic milieu, he also repeatedly pokes fun at the academicism that all art-related discussions are inevitably suffused with. The videos often take up the problems of racism, unfair access to art education, and social divides more broadly, yet they do so in a very unobtrusive – and hence still entertaining – fashion.
Quickly attracting a growing flock of fans, Youngman (and not Musson) was even invited to give a speech at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. This should not be surprising: museums have been courting Institutional Critique for a while now. However, Youngman’s Youtube videos are still comparatively detached from the constraints of art institutions and might give you a refreshing break from the museum catalogues and academic journals you’re probably studying at the moment. The episodes I find most amusing are the Relational Aesthetics and Damien Hirst. (Do watch them till the end!) What makes Hennessy’s channel even funnier is the comments section: some viewers seem to be blissfully unaware of the derisive nature of the whole project.
It is important, though, that we stress the difference between Youngman and his creator. Jayson Musson actually makes art – and I mean installations, sculpture, paintings, etc. – that gets exhibited in major galleries. Nonetheless, as Don Edler points out in his Hyperallergic article, Musson remains, for better or worse, not just associated with but also frequently overshadowed by his Youtube persona. What I don’t appreciate about Edler’s attitude to Musson, however, is how he subtly rebukes the artist for having gained an MFA at an Ivy League institution. I believe that Musson’s prestigious education is precisely what makes his performance in ‘Art Thoughtz’ even cooler: his Hennessy Youngman does not spare anyone, not even himself.