Hennessy Youngman Talk Pretty One Day

by Paddy Johnson Whitney Kimball and Corinna Kirsch on July 12, 2012 · 37 comments Off Our Chest

Hennessy Youngman, Photo courtesy Rhizome

We’re going to dole out this week’s blogger prize for Most Offensive Post one day early, because we’re pretty sure no one’s going to top GalleristNY. Yesterday, the blog celebrated Jayson Musson’s first show at Salon 94 with a two-page profile on the artist full of racist undertones. That’s an awfully strong word, and because we don’t use it lightly, we’re going to highlight exactly what we don’t like and why.

The piece is loaded with brush-offs like “only a million [YouTube] views,” and at times is just plain inaccurate. Jayson Musson’s actual speaking voice is described as sounding “like Hennessy imitating a white person.” “Hip-hop” is reliably conflated with “idiotic,” which leads Gallerist to point out (over and over) that Hennessy is an idiot:

Hennessy wears cartoon-character caps and pharaoh chains, often introducing himself as “the pedagogic pimp,” and lectures in over-the-top thug speak on art world absurdities presented as pure fact. He’s seemingly too stupid to be angry about any of them.

As GalleristNY would have you believe, Hennessy couldn’t possibly understand the subjects he’s talking about because he’s not angry about them. But as Marina Galperina points out on Animal, this is to fundamentally misunderstand the character Musson has constructed. Hennessy isn’t playing a moron; he’s an amateur art educator who’s bringing his DIY classroom to YouTube.

That’s why the artists he mentions are, by and large, household names. Damien Hirst, Bruce Nauman, and Louise Bourgeois have all come up, precisely because Hennessy is explaining art to people who may not know those names.

Failing to understand this leads GalleristNY to claim that Hennessy discusses those artists solely on a “name-drop level.” That term suggests Hennessy isn’t adequately discussing the issues, which underestimates his videos. Meanwhile, GalleristNY itself ends its discussion of Musson’s new work in the second paragraph:

Last Thursday he was still stretching the Cosby ephemera over wooden frames like canvases for paintings. He said they were inspired by Jackson Pollock. I said they reminded me of David Hammons. “That’s because you’re a racist,” he deadpanned. “It’s okay, a lot of people don’t know that they are.”

  • http://benjaminvalentine.com/ Ben Valentine

    Thanks for writing this, that article was terrible and needed a proper reaction.

  • http://twitter.com/cmonstah Carolina A. Miranda

    wow, that piece was a journalistic turd.

  • nathaniel stern

    “Hennessy doesn’t get it.”
    Sadly, yet again, the irony might be lost on GalleristNY.

  • bill evertson

    Yes, thanks for stepping up to the plate….

  • http://twitter.com/spitsdiamonds MMM

    I agree with all points here. His work is about more than expanding art education, or whatever – he’s bringing up a discussion about race and art, and that conversation is weightier than the one about trying-to-speak-to-a-wider-audience. The fact that the author of the GalleristNY article is a white guy is what I love most: one of his beefs is that Hennessy is “imitating a white person.” Dude fails to realize that he’s flipping the cushion to show that everyone thinks there’s only one way we can talk about and understand art, and it’s an especially igneous discussion when you bring race into it. Pathetic.

  • natexhill

    Racist undertones aside, it sounds like the author made the mistake of not taking a brilliant artist seriously who has many adoring fans. I’m not sure that is such a bad thing completely. I’m constantly in search of fresh take on Hennessy other than “WE LOVE YOU!”

    • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

      It sounds like you’re saying Duray’s non-mistake was to dare to question the work of a man who’s popularity should raise an eyebrow or two. Is that interpretation correct? If so, I don’t see that as an issue here. Musson’s youtube work is largely lauded because it should be. Not all the videos are a screaming success but as a body of work, it’s really, very solid imo.  

      All this work will likely be held up to greater scrutiny now that it’s in a gallery and that’s a good thing, but let’s not pretend that that’s what Duray is offering. This author’s criticism isn’t rooted in an understanding of the work, so it has to be dismissed entirely. 

      • natexhill

        No, I am not congratulating the author. However, as you probably know, usually I’m more interested in how art world outsiders view art, so I am using this piece as a clue to how Hennessy may be viewed outside the art bubble.

        I don’t feel the need to dismiss the author’s opinion because he sounds like he is misinformed which many people outside the art world are as well, so I feel it’s valuable in that regard.

        As for Hennessy’s mega popularity–When mostly everyone likes an art work within the art world or even outside of it, I do raise an eyebrow. Seems like there’s something there to discuss.

        • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

          Fair enough. What do you think is behind his mega-popularity?

          • natexhill

            That’s a question, I can’t answer completely right now. I also can’t answer — Did his satire change anything in the art world or was it only entertainment?

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=645397911 Jayson Musson

             I’ve always been skeptical of the notion of the Art Thoughtz videos being able to change the art world and have flatly denied their capacity to do so when asked about it at talks. I doubt any grad student (when I started making them) making a body of work, especially studying in Philadelphia, would assume such a lofty idea about their work. I was always more interested in them as a vehicle to explore my personal relationship to art history while excavating the field’s ideas in a hyperbolic manner rather than a producing a vast utopic change in the art world. If anything I wanted other artists and young people to see my Art Thoughtz videos and realize that if I can find an audience from scratch then the possibility may exist for them too. I know, it’s so simple and saccharine.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=34601449 Ryder Ripps

            cuz his work is funny and on point and smart.

          • http://jdsiazon.com/ JD Siazon

            Hennessy Youngman is mainstream simply because he addresses art criticism and institutional critique in the flamboyant guise of an affable urban black male stereotype which strongly appeals to the collective cowardice of art world dilettantes and charlatans for its surreality.  If he were serious about being a critic his supporters would have to defend radical political views that most people won’t from fear of ostracism and peer pressure.  But since Hennessy Youngman is just a bit his fans can vent their tawdry frustrations through him while staying resolutely uncommitted to acting in service of reform in the arts.

          • http://www.facebook.com/hennessyyoungman Hennessy Youngman

            IS BEING A DHARMA ARTIST LIKE BEING A DHARMA BUM?

          • http://jdsiazon.com/ JD Siazon

            Dharma artists would never just shuck off artistic accountability or their responsibility to the world in order to mindlessly play the role of an artist in public especially without performing as one per se.

          • http://www.facebook.com/hennessyyoungman Hennessy Youngman

            THATS ALL WELL AND GOOD, YOU ARE A SAINT, YOU ARE MINDFUL AND SENSITIVE LEAVE A CARBON FOOTPRINT OF NIL, BUT YOU DIDN’T ANSWER MY QUESTION: IS BEING A DHARMA ARTIST LIKE BEING A DHARMA BUM?

          • http://jdsiazon.com/ JD Siazon

            Ask Jack Kerouac …

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/QPX7CLYMQZCUTOU43P5X3TAY6U Mike

            A Dharma and Greg artist maybe… 

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1303423377 Jeff Klein

            I would totally pledge a Kickstarted Hennessy/JD video battle series

          • http://www.chrismillerwebsite.wordpress.com/ ChristopherM

            Ha! totally. There’s a Drinking Game in there somewhere, I just know it.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=28124954 Jennifer Chan

            Do you mean in short, Henessy is a hipster because he jokes about art history without reforming its education? I think he’s playing to the non-art crowd when he does that; he’s making decisions about what to reveal or not reveal about his art education. I think you’re pitting politics versus praxis. Don’t you think performance art (in the form of turning oneself into a microcelibrity) is a form of such practice? He’s at least inspiring freshmen to get interested in questioning what art should be…and in 20 years will probably be in textbooks, don’t you worry. I don’t think Youngman never claimed to be an activist either. 

            I’ve always felt like critique of any form had to be delivered or packaged seductively (or it’s just playing to the academic sphere) and Art Thoughtz does that.

          • http://jdsiazon.com/ JD Siazon

            Art critics work extremely hard to bring about revolutionary qualitative changes in all the distinct fields of artistic practice and bearing that in mind Hennessy Youngman in no way can be called a critic since he has no personal investment in reform of any kind but only pokes fun at the very tasks at hand which intimidate him.  It would be best and more precise to relegate him to the role of comedian understanding that it is his humor and awkward manner of dress that has garnered him such a wide audience and which distinguishes the bit from its creator Jayson Musson.

    • http://www.facebook.com/DanielAnTonJohnson Daniel Johnson

      I’ve been waiting for someone to give me a different take on the Pedagogical Pimp too. Maybe I’m jaded … but, as a black artist in NY, I find it extremely difficult to believe that all of Henn Rock’s viewers have the capacity to understand the complexity of the racial paradigms that he’s exploring with the character. 

      Part of what’s so enjoyable about the character is also what makes me uncomfortable. Like when Chappelle’s Show made a lot white people think it’s OK to say nigga as long as it was being quoted from a sketch (eg “Fuck your couch nigga!”). Anyway, maybe this is the reason for Hennessy Youngman’s popularity. I mean, can a white person actually critique Youngman/Munson  without being called a racist by at least one person? I heard that white people hate being called racists. 

  • glasspopcorn

    More white people refusing to understand that hip-hop is the syntax of the future’s academic discourse…Hennessy is not only a great artist, but because he uses inclusive language instead of the vocabulary white elitists are more comfortable with, he also lets outsiders (like the rappers he references) “get” it. When more people finally begin to realize that the academic and artistic language of the future will move further in the direction of hip-hop and ethnic slang (as opposed to away from), maybe we will all begin to recognize posts like this one by GalleristNY as racist garbage.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23443988 Dayton C Castleman

    not into it

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=34601449 Ryder Ripps

    i found this weird video that really relates to this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L_NnX8oj-g

  • http://twitter.com/Juliahalperin Julia Halperin

    I might also add that the assumption that all his jokes in character are easily accessible feels a little out of touch. Hennessy’s comment that “Bruce Nauman is most notable for being the guy who already did everything you that you want to do, but in the 1970s” is not only pointed, funny, and intelligent, but very much engaged with art history. I can’t imagine very many people with even a B.A. in the subject being able to make that joke. (And it’s just so damn good.)

    • http://hereisafantasy.com Corinna Kirsch

      Agreed. I first thought of Hennessy as someone who was first and foremost a teacher. And I feel like most of the people who showed me his work in the first place were MFA students or recent MFAs who were sick of how they’ve been taught. I’ve shown Hennessy vids to my not-at-all artsy sisters and they don’t get what he’s doing at all. So, there you go. 

    • JosephYoung

      the content is certainly insider-y but isn’t the central irony–
      that a ‘hip hop guy’ would/could have really pointed, funny, razor sharp things to say about art, in both insider and outsider language–pretty obvious? i mean, it’s so well done that i think he could be talking about quantum physics or jet engines–which i know nothing about–and still i’d get the idea.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ianaleksanderadams Ian Aleksander Adams

        it could be considered an intro to the fact that ‘hip hop guys [and gals]‘ talk about deep fucking shit all the time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jen.hoffmanwilliamson Jen Jaber Hoffman-Williamson

    I’m most offended by mr. Duray calling my friend a  “a large, wide man, so big that he would resemble two people” .  Unnecessary.  Kid ain’t that big.

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_Kianga Kianga Ellis

    No comment as to whether the Gothamist post was great writing, but the accusations of racism in my view come from a total misunderstanding and perhaps knee jerk response to what I read as the author’s comfort with the tropes and issues he is referencing. I hope people can appreciate Hennessy Youngman as simply a great work of art, which is why Jayson is getting recognition well deserved. He’s not trying to lead another Million Man March, so I think the emphasis on the racial meaning of the work is misplaced.

    • http://jdsiazon.com/ JD Siazon

      Everyone unduly conflating Jayson Musson’s sketch comedy abilities with his mediocre talent in creating video art almost verges on a conspiracy of fear and stupidity.  Just because someone can make you giggle and fart doesn’t validate them as an artist by any means.  People are so wont to be spoon-fed entertainment nowadays that the utter lack of critical focus on the intellectual nuances of Hennessy Youngman’s videos testifies to the laziness and ineptitude of nearly all art critics to discern artworks of lasting influence from the sadly touted flash in the pan.

      • Adam Taye

         Haters gonna hate.  Get over yourself.

        • ml242

          No, it’s $5 plus $7.50 shipping and handling but the value is 60-100k.

  • http://www.artblognyc.com/ Alan Lupiani

     If you are not into it the work, you don’t watch it.  If it makes you angry and uncomfortable, then it’s probably tapping into something worthy of further exploration.  I appreciate the work for many reasons, many having to do with issues of identity and defining what the work actually represents, how it exists in the world. 

    • http://jdsiazon.com/ JD Siazon

      My whole point is that us artists and writers who can identify the gross morass of problems plaguing the art world need to invariably strive to remedy the situation most especially if we are equipped with the talent, resources, and support groups to do so.  Evading this mighty call only reflects one’s dour immaturity and human beings not caring about the future.  Hennessy Youngman can crack jokes until the cows come home but at the end of the day he is just spinning off ideas we already possess rather than concentrating on fulfilling his potential to be a significant critic and artist in the 21st century.

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