Who’s the most interesting art critic in the country right now? Nope, not Jerry Saltz. I might change my mind tomorrow, but today I’m pretty damn sure it’s Hennessy Youngman. Okay — Hennessy’s not actually an art critic. He’s not an art writer. He’s a thinker of Art Thoughtz who has described himself as “just an American nigga at the cross section of dissonant worlds, and I’m the chaos of those conflicting cultural spheres unresolved in all their wonderful madness.” His stuff takes the form of direct-address video monologues performed by Youngman himself, who sits in a white-walled “alabaster alcove” and proceeds to break down art world rhetoric into its constituent bullshit parts. Have a look at Hennessy’s latest, on Relational Aesthetics:
It’s a truly blissful feeling when someone says straight out loud what you’ve been thinking but were too cowed by your peers to say yourself, no? Youngman spreads this kind of bliss with each new episode of Art Thoughtz. But what he does is not exactly about speaking truth to power – it’s a bit more irony-laced than that. Check out this episode on Curators, for example. It’s pretty sexist (although the observation about Velma hair was frakkin’ brilliant), and I think Hennessey might be confusing, or at least conflating, curator with dealer here….
I love how in my YouTube stream, this episode is followed by a promotional interview with Rhizome executive director and New Museum curator Lauren Cornell (Free). This coincidental juxtaposition sums it up for me: at the same time that the young, blonde, attractive Cornell seems to exemplify the type of curator Youngman is caricaturing, she’s also one of the few out there who is actively thinking-through the social media practices that Hennessey himself is engaging. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cornell wanted to include Youngman in one of her next shows.
Point is, Hennessey Youngman is taking the piss out of everything and everyone; the layers of irony are too thick to fully pry apart and as a result we’re forced to assume a different posture, as it were, in our reception of Hennessy’s Thoughtz. If you read it straight, you’re going to get defensive or pissed off and thus totally miss the point, but if you think it all boils down either to comedy or simply an outsider’s attempt to take a giant shit on the art world, you’re not listening carefully enough. It’s one of those both/and kind of things that pushes us into areas that make us feel uncomfortable. And in my book, that is always a good thing.
Henessey is already something of an internet phenomenon, yet there’s surprisingly little out there about who this guy actually is, where he comes from, etc. I like that he’s a man of mystery and hasn’t yet been included in one of Ms. Cornell’s exhibitions. The dominant culture always manages to absorb its critics, though, so I don’t hold out much hope that he won’t be, sooner or later. I do know that in this interview Hennessy Youngman had the balls to respond to the question “Can you be successful if you’re a Muslim artist?” thusly:
Are you serious? Have you ever heard of this artist collective known as Al-Qaeda? They did this performance piece called 9-11. That was absolutely jaw dropping. They only performed it once, but luckily it was very well documented and can be seen pretty much anywhere on the internet. Highly recommended. Way better than anything them Fluxus or Dada motherfuckers could come up with.
So I’ll hold out just a little bit of hope that Hennessy never cleans up his act enough to grace the museum’s white walls.