Jayson Musson’s “History of Art” is hilarious and educational

Jayson Musson
Carlos Avendaño

Multi-discipline artist Jayson Musson is Philly-through-and through. After graduating from University of the Arts, he earned a master’s at University of Pennsylvania and went on to become a part of the Space 1026 collective, a creative community headquartered on Broad Street that aims to promote the diverse art of young artists throughout Philadelphia.

And starting July 22 and running through until Nov. 13, Musson will showcase a new video-based installation ‘Jayson Musson: His History of Art’ – “a sitcom orbiting art history and all the fun to be had dancing on the minefield of the past” – at Arch Street’s Fabric Workshop Museum.

Carlos Avendaño

“This time period was vastly influential to my thoughts on art making,” says Musson of the 2002-2005 period at Space 1026 and through 2009 at Penn. “Transitioning from this DIY art making scene to the world of a MFA program was pretty big culture shock,” he says. “(And) a youth spent showing in cafés in Philadelphia left me with the idea that art was made with no expectation of financial return. You showed to your peers, who were equally broke and weird, and we did so without any notion of like some cultural ladder to climb. Philly art was freeing in this sense, and very fun.”

In 2010, Musson became an internet sensation with ART THOUGHTZ, 20 YouTube-based performances where the fine artist became a caustic, comic character, “Hennessy Youngman,” satirizing pop culture and art institutional insider-ism while offering new ways of understanding and fixing ages-old problems.

“The vast differences between the two worlds allowed me to clearly see the gestures and cultural performances of the contemporary art (through the lens of a graduate program) and begin thinking of cultural contrasts to this world,” he says.

Now, Musson takes hold of the field of art history – “narrow in scope and entrenched in a Western, male-dominated canon” – and with “His History,” creates his own sitcom series and living room environment in which to comfortably culturally critique art history with his usual biting humor. Just him and “Ollie,” a puppet constructed by Philly’s Fabric Workshop and voiced by Cedwan Hooks.

Video still courtesy of Jayson Musson

Musson began developing the format of HHoA in early 2021. “I’m a big fan of the British comedy ‘The Mighty Boosh’ which had this wonderful mixture of live actors, costumes, and walk-around puppets and wanted to create something fun and informative within that vein,” he says. “I opted out of doing talking head/solo critiques because at this stage of my career I find them boring. It would just be a slide show of images and exposition dumps based on research. That’s not art to me. It’s not creative and it doesn’t engage me at all. In His History’s current format, I can focus on the play of conversation between Ollie the rabbit and myself, while still including the cultural and historical themes that all the eggheads will love.”

After viewing three episodes of Musson’s “History” sitcom, visitors can chill in Jay’s living room set with his art collection—props from the production that play upon art historical icons such as Salvador Dali’s dripping clocks, Hans Holbein’s anamorphic skulls, Michelangelo’s Pieta —and an animatronic Ollie will greet visitors.

As for Musson’s usual sense of critique, the artist says, “It’s easy to just say, “Europe bad” and pat oneself on the back for having a fire take. Yeah, there’s dumb sh*t in art history, but life itself is very dumb. In developing ‘His History of Art’ I wanted to play around with the “enduring” themes in art history… The background lore of ‘His History of Art’ is that me and Ollie live at the edge of the universe outside of time and have access to all of history beyond ‘The Black Door’ in our house. So, in its entirety, ‘His History of Art’ will probably be a meandering and absurd adventure in the ideas that shape the thinking of our planet. No clue what it says about me though. Deluded? Probably deluded.”

As for returning to Philly and teaming with the Fabric Workshop – his one-time Arch Street neighbor — Musson says, “The Fabric Workshop is a perfect fit for me because as an artist, I’m driven by curiosity and process, that special part of art making which is the figuring out what “The Thing” will be, not necessarily “The Thing” when its finished. The studio team at the Fabric Workshop are process gods walking amongst mere mortals who love to dive into ideas and experiment, play, and iterate, until we arrive at something great.”

And greatness, grace and humor is what Musson, Ollie and the Fabric Workshop team wind up with for “His History of Art.”

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