Jayson Musson’s Coogi Canvases Are A Hit, Even If You Don’t Get Hennessy Youngman

07.12.12 Marina Galperina

Here’s your favorite YouTube art critic Hennessy Youngman a.k.a. artist Jayson Musson in the flesh. Last night, at the paked Salon 94 Gallery’s “Halcyon Days” opening on the Bowery next door to the New Museum, Musson showed off his newest 2D series — giant canvases of stretched cut-up Coogi sweaters.

Let’s refresh. Jayson Musson has an MFA in Painting from University of Pennsylvania and started vlogging “Art Thoughtz” as a love-hate letter for the internet, a reaction to the art world–both its bullshit and uniqueness. He once described Relational Aesthetics participants as “strangers in some kind of convivial happening in antiseptic confines of an art instutition” which is like “getting drunk in a bar, having a one night stand and contracting herpes.” High brow, low blow perfection. And then he calls out Damien Hirst for his “Axe body spray level of douchebaggery” and everyone gets it and he’s famous. Hey, it happens, hater. Now back to Coogi.

He recalls:

“The thing I found most alluring about Coogi sweaters was how painterly they were. They seemingly lingered on the borders of gestural abstraction. I made the joke, “That Coogi looks like a Pollock.” Over the course of the following weeks, I began collecting images of the sweaters, studying their composition. They seemed to defy the traditional logic of the textile, opting instead to appear spontaneous and created by hand rather than machine-made. Each sweater, though a manufactured object seemed to seek its own authenticity. Even the old Coogi slogan “Wearable Art” seemed to confirm the desire for each sweater to be considered an objet unique, a specialized commodity.”

The pieces are visually and texturally appealing, on a pure abstract art level. The technique deconstructs not just a pattern, but an instantly recognizable visual aspect of ’80s hip hop culture. There are so many levels of meta in this! Maybe Jayson’s “remixing” by cutting and weaving whole fabric together! Maybe he’s “sampling” Coogi by recontextualizing it in the art world! Is this artified kitsch? Do you need an actual familiarity with the brand or with Biggie or Snoop to appreciate this through something other than irony? Look, like all art, it’s open to some interpretation. We’re all entitled to our opinion. But sometimes, you are going to get called out.

Take this GalleristNY reporter writes a review (correction: a preview) of the show without really writing about the show and is convinced that “Hennessy” is “an idiot” and “a moron,” that Jayson is playing Ali G when he’s closer to a Stephen Colbert’s persona perhaps. In fact, “Hennessy” is a pretty sturdy vessel for some very point, albeit, exaggerated art world observations, and even though his “Bruce Nauman exercises” insta-classics are funny, only someone who takes his field way too seriously and holy would call him “a moron,” over and over and over. Or maybe someone who’s never seen talking head hip hop commentator on YouTube, so they have no point of reference. However, this particular bit is just jaw-dropping, even if you have no background in art or hip hop culture whatsoever:

“The fans are rabid, said Mr. Musson, whose real voice sounds like Hennessy imitating a white person (he describes his own ethnicity as West Indian). Like girls sending you naked pictures of themselves rabid? “I wish,” Mr. Musson said. “No, I get people sending me their portfolio websites, asking for crits.””

Not the n00dz, for Jayson deserves ’em. But seriously? “Imitating a white person?” The writer has some serious misconceptions about what being black and/or white entails. Angering, isn’t it? Let’s move on. Let it simmer. This is not a negative review, mind you. It’s a thorough piece of reporting, it’s just skewed so strangely, so…off.

At an art party on a rare night out recently, he was photographed kissing the artist William Powhida on the side of the head while Jerry Saltz looked on and threw some horns for the camera. “It was actually Hennessy’s Facebook photo for a while,” Mr. Musson said, “As I was kissing William, he was like, ‘You’re an insider now, by the way. You’re done.’”

He’s talking about the photo I took of him at the Art Fag City Rob Pruitt Art Awards and Auction. Here’s a silly GIF of it. And though Musson says he doesn’t feel like an insider, he has been welcomed with open arms, not just by his “rabid” YouTube fans but with a Marilyn Minter-curated show at Maurizio Cattelan’s Family Business Gallery, at Postmasters, by Jerry Saltz, the “blogosphere,” etc., etc. Thanks for pointing out the fact that he’s aware of his own fragility and noob-ness; that’s a nice closer. And yes, he’s very, very likeable. Sorry that his “white” accent threw you off.

For your consideration: Hennessy Youngman: How To Make An Art and proof of Coogi appreciation.

(All photos: Marina Galperina/ANIMALNewYork, Nauman GIF by @whybray)