Alumnus Moonlights as ‘Ali G with an MFA’

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We were chatting with one of Penn’s art history professors the other day and she happened to mention a series of videos by alumnus Jayson Scott Musson GFA’11. “They are hilarious,” she promised.

It turns out Musson started posting the recordings back in 2010 — during his first semester at Penn Design — but they span the last few years and were all new to us. As his invented character Hennessy Youngman, Musson offers up “Art Thoughtz,” discussing everything from the debate over attending grad school to becoming a successful artist to “Poetic Waxin’.”

One biography of the artist described these Youngman videos as “pit[ting] hip-hop and art world idioms against each other in a dual parody of cultural clichés.” A New York Times article called them “insightful jabs made by a hip-hop personality whose faux-outsider perspective is intended to challenge the art world’s pretensions and inaccessibility.” Art in America said Musson was “Ali G with an M.F.A.”

Here’s Hennessy Youngman’s YouTube channel, and here’s his most-viewed video, “How to Make an Art”:

In addition to recording videos and delivering in-person lectures as Youngman, Musson makes art under his own name, too. He had solo shows last year at the Fleisher/Ollman Gallery in Philly and Salon 94 in New York City, and he also exhibited in group shows at the Contemporary Arts Museum — Houston, FLAG Art Foundation and Postmasters in New York and Penn’s own Institute of Contemporary Art.

At ICA, Musson’s work “Early Imperial Luxury Arts” appeared in the exhibition First Among Equals. Here’s what it looked like:

Photo: Alex Klein / ICA
Photo: Alex Klein / ICA

Musson also became the voice heard ’round the world earlier this year thanks to “Harlem Shake” — a song-turned-Internet-meme. (This Top 10 compilation alone has nearly 60 million views.) The song’s creator, a DJ who goes by Baauer, sampled the key line “then do the Harlem shake” from the song “Miller Time,” which Musson’s rap collective Plastic Little released in 2001. The only problem was that Baauer didn’t have anyone’s permission. If you’re curious, the Times published this detailed account of what happened.

—Molly Petrilla C’06

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