Through January 26
By Jeffrey Bussmann
The exhibition notes of Jayson Musson’s A True Fiend’s Weight reference The Notorious B.I.G.’s affinity for the Coogi sweater. However, in a contemporary context, Canadian rapper/singer Drake is a more immediate reference.
Drake has carved a niche with his confessional, introspective—some might say “emo”—lyrical content and flow. His credibility in the game is remarkable, especially when stacked against harder-edged Young Money label mates. He has also risen as a sartorial icon, notably for his unabashed love of sweaters. Hip-hop culture overall does not take well to irony, keeping it real is the modus operandi; but Drake has even parodied this style peculiarity, appearing with Andy Samberg in matching sweaters on a Saturday Night Live skit.
In his current show, we see Musson paving an escape route from the Hennessey Youngman videos that brought him internet fame. Knowing viewers of the Art Thoughtz shorts can read the embedded subversive humor, but on camera Youngman’s appearance is nothing if not deadly serious. In contrast, with the current crop of sweater paintings, Musson has found a way to explore color and abstraction sincerely, while maintaining hip-hop allusions.
So is Musson more Biggie Smalls or more Drizzy? The answer is neither. The ability to slip in and out of alter egos, none of which are the artist’s real self, is a touchstone of the modern rapper. Eminem has Slim Shady; the members of Wu-Tang Clan each play different characters; and most recently Kendrick Lamar has battled with his squeaky inner-voice. More than a painter such as Kehinde Wiley, who holds a mirror up to superficial flourishes of dress and hyper-masculinity, Musson is finding a way to apply hip-hop rubric to visual art without resorting to literalism.
Jeffrey Bussmann works at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently completing his master’s thesis on Brazilian art and cultural organizations.