When was the last time you remembered a museum’s board member for something other than selling tear gas?
Museums are widely regarded by the public as impartial cultural guardians, but it’s no accident: much of the relevance and power of these institutions is rooted in their appearance as diverse and innovative, and for most museums, framing themselves accordingly is intentional.
Classism has been inherent to the institution of “The Museum” since its founding. The modern museum evolved over hundreds of years from what were originally large private collections only available to the wealthy elite. And while over 300 years has brought some symbolic victories, museums still function largely as social dividers: art for and by the rich. There is a direct correlation between museum attendance and variables like race, class, and level of education. This reality is at odds with the facade of impartiality.
Let’s look at [INSERT MUSEUM HERE]. It would be easy to scrutinize their inclusion of [INSERT WEALTH-CRIMINAL] on the museum’s board, or their lack of meaningful acquisitions of art by POC [PRE 2019]. But where does the work of making museums more equitable, inclusive spaces begin? From the top, where leadership has the same level of diversity as major oil companies? Or from the bottom, with artists and museum attendees?
Artists around the world, and for our purposes NYC, are creating publicly accessible artwork in direct response to the inequalities on all levels of art institutions.
Amongst them is Jayson Musson, aka Hennessy Youngman aka “Ali G With an MFA.” Musson is an interdisciplinary, Bronx-born, Brooklyn-based artist whose work spans performance, video, animation, painting, drawing, assemblage, and more. Musson gained wide-spread attention for his YouTube-based performance project entitled ART THOUGHTZ, wherein he adopts the persona of his alter ego “Hennessy Youngman.” As millennials coming up in the art world, ART THOUGHTZ holds a special place in our nostalgia centers. Although, in revisiting it as adults, the series reads as relevant and fresh as ever — mostly because many of his grievances and critiques surround structures that have gone unchanged 10 years later, including the country’s federal minimum wage.
Musson, or Youngman, utilizes the popular format of tutorial videos as a tool to parody the modern dynamics of the art world and explore the underlying issues of racism, capitalism, and misogyny. The series consists of 24 publicly available videos and spans from 2010 to 2012. Hennessy Youngman is the conduit through which Musson challenges the validity of the white, elite art world.
“In some way I think Hennessy fulfills this kind of, like, narcissistic desire of the art world to want to hear about itself. And to hear about itself in a new language”Jayson Musson, a.k.a Hennessy Youngman in “Destroy & Rebuild“
Humor is a key element throughout all of Musson’s work. Afterall, to exist in such a hypercapitalist sphere as a self-proclaimed “waste fellow” requires a sense of humor — if only as a coping mechanism.