Is Jayson Musson’s New Video a “Hot Tub Time Machine” for the Art World?

A still from Jayson Musson's new web series, "The Adventures of Jamel." Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York.

Is the art world ready for a time-traveling hip-hop enthusiast?

On Monday, Jayson Musson will release the first episode of a six-part web series, “The Adventures of Jamel,” starring a homeboy with a time machine. He offered a preview Wednesday night at Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn’s gallery, Salon 94, which was jam-packed with fans.

Musson is the New York artist behind the often-hilarious, faux-instructional “Art Thoughtz” videos, in which he stars as an aesthete and rapper named Hennessy Youngman (the self-styled “row-house raconteur”) who expounds on all things artistic, from “how to make an art” to the etiquette of the studio visit. In the voice of a supposed art-world outsider, he combines profanity, references to rappers, and homages to figures like Bruce Nauman and Louise Bourgeois.

The nine-minute video screened Wednesday night starts with a lab-coated scientist’s unsuccessful demonstration of something he calls a “temporal navigation unit” for an unsympathetic handful of fellow Illuminati. One of them drinks Merlot out of the skull of an Iraqi infant. Musson, wearing a keffiyeh and sunglasses, has a cameo. The machine, which looks exactly like a cell phone, fails to function when the scientist tries to activate it by waving it in the air. The Illuminati file out, one of them saying, “Let’s go have some anal sex!”

Enter the title character, played by James III and clad in a red Adidas track suit, Kangol cap, and do-rag. Pushing a janitor’s cart around the generic, corporate-beige Illuminati Headquarters, Jamel comes upon the downcast scientist, who explains his failure.

“Well, no wonder it didn’t work, doc!” says Jamel. “Maybe all you needed was a little hip-hop pizzazz!” When Jamel starts dancing with the phone-like time machine, he’s sent back to the pre-Emancipation South.

Hilarity ensues. When a slave owner refers to a slave with the N-word, an outraged Jamel says, “Yo! Chill with the language, Tarantino!” He goes on to say that where he comes from, no human beings are the property of others, unless, of course, you’re a construction worker in Dubai (a sly dig at the Guggenheim, which is erecting a museum there) or a sales associate at WalMart.

The high point of the video is the title sequence, in which Jamel, like the main character in Woody Allen’s Zelig, pops up in various historic photos and artworks—he stands grinning behind MLK and Malcolm X shaking hands; he intervenes in Eddie Adams’s well-known photograph of a police chief executing a Vietcong prisoner in the street in Saigon, staying the cop’s hand; he traipses through van Gogh’s The Sowers; and he runs along with the horse in Eadweard Muybridge’s time-lapse video.

After the screening, Musson took a few questions (though he warned, “I hate questions”), and explained Jamel’s character arc: “He’s very trusting and gives people the benefit of the doubt but finally realizes that people are shit.”

Will there be a love interest, we asked? No, said Musson. “Jamel’s kind of asexual.”

An audience member asked whether Musson was aware of a joke in which Louis CK acknowledges that for black people, travel to any time before 1980 would not be advisable.

Why is 1980 the cutoff, we asked?

“Because white people are crazy,” Musson said.

He added, “Sorry, white people.”


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