Jayson Musson first came into prominence with his online personality Hennessy Youngman, a character commenting on different topics related to art from a wry perspective, while satirizing the clichés of the art world and the hip-hop culture at the same time. Played by Musson himself for his Youtube series Art Thoughtz, Hennessy Youngman can be seen comparing the dance style of Yvon Rainer to the moves in A-Ha’s Take On Me video or flirting with Carolee Schneemann. Similar to Musson’s articles for his short-lived column Black Like Me on Philadelphia Weekly, his online persona/alter ego Hennessy Youngman is an outpost of the artist’s investigation of racial stereotypes and the making of sub-cultures in today’s society.
Musson, whose association with media culture has always been evident in his work, is currently presenting his second collaboration with Salon 94, titled Exhibit of Abstract Art, a selection of Musson’s new sculptural and two dimensional works emphasizing his practice as a fine artist in addition to his writing, music and performance. Adapting images from the classic comic strip Nancy, and its creator Ernie Bushmiller’s depiction of the then-emerging Modern Art movement as his core inspiration, Musson has created a body of work that pays homage to Bushmiller’s reflection on the ‘new art‘ in the early stages of 20th century. Bushmiller, who was not delighted with the abstraction-driven art of his time, consecutively satirized this up and coming style in Nancy.
Cursory depictions of abstract paintings and the raw childish reactions of the main character Nancy to these works were the undertones of a man who was not able to follow the changing notions of the world, Musson about says Bushmiller’s stand. Following the comic’s depictions of Modern Art in Nancy, Musson built a set of art works composed of sculptures and works on paper, sharing the common points of Bushmiller’s depictions of abstract work. Musson’s humorously-titled and brightly-colored creations celebrate all the prejudice and mockery Modern Art had received during its emergence, due to its non-functional and easily ‘imitable’ nature. Pertinently titled works such as Fritzi’s Painting, A Sign which Points to Itself or An Expanding Center Means there is no Center refer to the comparisons used for Modernist art works in the comic, while raising a bitter sympathy for Bushmiller’s verdict on the new order of culture.
A series of works on panels, with phrases like Portrait Drawn for $1, Abstract Painting $500 or Exhibit of Surrealist Art, deliver the subtle mockery that was present in Bushmiller’s illustrations. Musson’s body of work currently on view at Salon 94 Bowery raises questions on the value and the language of artworks in the eyes the majorities, stripping them from a place solely for the delight of a certain group or class. As an artist of humor and satire himself, Jayson Musson draws off Bushmiller’s perspective from a century ago and repurposes it into a matter of today.
Jayson Musson: Exhibit of Abstract Art is on view at Salon 94 Bowery through June 21, 2014.
*All images by Osman Can Yerebakan for Art Observed