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21st Century Fairy Tales

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Let’s be real. Something was wrong from the start.

“This art shit is a niche market. And whether or not artists want to admit it they carry a brand within their work”.

Yawn.

To say we have heard this sort of affirmation before would be short of an understatement. But surely our indifference does not make it any less relevant.

If you feel frustrated with the redundancy of critiques against the art establishment, worry no more. Hennessy Youngman has come to your rescue. Who knew that a few baseball caps, golden chains and a pinch of wit were all we needed to make a bunch of banal affirmations on the world of contemporary art take a refreshing sound?

For those of you who are out of the loop, I am talking about Art Thoughtz. A YouTube channel composed of 26 short monologues on contemporary art. Starring “your boy, Hennessy Youngman" as an improbable hip-hop art expert, whose homemade videos are both funny and insightful. Truth be told, he is the art professor you always wished for. Subjects range from tips on how to make “an Art” and seduce curators, to criticism on Damien Hirst and Joseph Beuys (or Beuys-Z). Choose what you will, thanks to his occasionally naive and always bold affirmations, Youngman delivers.

“Art is not about making a sculpture out of scratch. I mean, where do you find scratch in 2011? I thought we ran out of scratch in the ‘60s”.

Youngman is far from becoming a YouTube star such as Rebecca Black. Still, with hundreds of thousands of views, he has become somewhat of a phenomenon in the unpopular field of art commentary videos. His Art Thoughtz episodes have been exhibited worldwide, including last year at London’s Whitechapel Gallery. Now, as much as we would all like the story of an outcast tuning on his webcam to tell us about the dirty secrets of the art world and end up becoming an authority in the industry, let’s be real. Something was wrong from the start.

Of course, it turns out that Art Thoughtz is nothing more than the scripted prank of an MFA student who grew up to ultimately conform to the industry he criticises. Yes, Jason Musson aka Hennessy Youngman is yet another soft-spoken abstract artist exhibiting in slick New York galleries. After all, what makes Art Thoughtz so compelling is precisely the paradoxical nature of its protagonist. Youngman might convince us that spending tens of thousands of dollars on a diploma is useless. But surely we did not believe that he learned to discuss “Rational Aesthetics” and “the Sublime” in high school, (or from YouTube ‘how to’ videos)

That is why those who find themselves let down when faced with the man behind the mask should be careful in formulating their adversity. Roaming the internet we can find more than a few critiques. Generally, it goes something like this: not only real life Musson proclaims to have little in common with Youngman’s dashing worldview, he is not even half as witty as his character. Sorry disappointed viewers, the joke is on you. What exactly were you expecting?

Really, we should be a little more sympathetic towards Musson. His attempts to break free from Youngman have not been very successful. Years have gone by but for most of his fans, and certainly for art institutions, he still remains Pharaoh Hennessy. It must be a little frustrating to know that your work still has a long way to go before reaching the fame of your YouTube stunts. Or to put it another way, that the world prefers to think of you as a cynical outcast rather than accept you as just another sucker for art.

So perhaps Art Thoughtz is not the story of a YouTuber who became famous by shouting his opinions at the world. We have had enough of those already. No, this is the story of an artist who became successful by fooling around with the public’s disillusionment for the art industry. And then set aside his character’s bleak point of view in order to pursue a career in the arts, perhaps simply for the good reason that he has still some faith in the sector. Call me old school, but I will choose faith over banal criticism any day.

Don’t get me wrong. I very much enjoyed listening to Youngman. But at the end of the day, my knight in shining armour is Jason Musson.

Words by Maria-Edmée di Sambuy

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Image still from Art Thoughtz, by Hennessy Youngman
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