A Piece of Work: Modern art for all

Modern and contemporary art can be tricky. Was Andy Warhol actually a visionary? What makes performance art moving? And what’s the deal with Duchamp’s urinal? Equal parts illustrator and entertainer, Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson hosts a ten-episode series, produced in collaboration with MoMA and WNYC Studios, on just these topics. A Piece of Work examines some of the most famous and sometimes highly criticized modern works of art through Jacobson’s exploration of  The Museum of Modern Art in New York City with top curators. This comical and captivating podcast is easily accessible to listeners from all disciplinary backgrounds.   

After attending the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) for graphic design, Jacobson ventured to New York City to forge a career in comedy, leaving her love for art on the backburner. Her new series is a way to rekindle that flame.

Jacobson’s honest candor on modern art is relatable and engaging on many levels. In one episode, Jacobson investigates the work of Cy Twombly with the help of her three-year-old niece, calling on a long tradition in the vein of “my preschooler could do that.” When looking at modern art, sometimes this is just people’s immediate reaction. Jacobson does not attempt to dismiss this as some academics or historians might.

Point blank, Jacobson seeks answers to the obvious questions that others are hesitant to search for.

She collaborates with museumgoers and curators alike to discover what is so infuriating to some about modern art movements such as abstract expressionism. Is it the seemingly random mark making? Or could it be that the work does not seem to be making some grand statement? For this podcast, the answers to these questions are not as necessary as the questions naturally involved in the art viewing process. Getting listeners and in-person viewers to consider the context in which art was made pushes them into dialogue with contemporary movements.

The podcast incorporates other comedians, celebrities and musicians such as Hannibal Buress and Ahmir Khalib Thompson, better known as Questlove. These figures offer their objective opinions as self-proclaimed non-art enthusiasts outside of the realm of the art world.

In episode four: “Samantha Irby Gets High on Light,” Jacobson investigates the large-scale installation art of Dan Flavin and James Turrell. Accompanying Jacobson is fellow comedian Samantha Irby, who provides irreverent commentary along the way.

Both Flavin and Turrell are popular for their brightly lit structures, or in the case of the latter, rooms. Flavin, working in the 1960’s, created his art exclusively in the medium of fluorescent light tubes. While these installations were largely site specific, The Colby College Museum of Art is home to one of Flavin’s pieces from 1991, untitled (to Annemarie and Gianfranco) 3, located in the Museum lobby. This piece is exemplary of the work that Jacobson describes, with vibrant pink, green and yellow fluorescent light. In this particular episode, the two comedians venture to MoMA PS1 in Long Island City to experience one of Turrell’s light rooms for themselves, delving into a transcendent space of optical illusion.

Taking a subject that some might find hard to understand or dry out of context, Jacobson’s cutting humor and inclusion of funny friends and entertainers makes this podcast the furthest thing from a bore. A Piece of Work is a must-listen, even for someone without a drop of previous knowledge of art history. Listen to the complete series for yourself at http://www.wnyc.org/shows/pieceofwork.