Abbi Jacobson, a star of the spectacularly absurd TV comedy romp Broad City and the host of a new podcast affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art, knows enough about art to know that she doesn’t know much. She got her gig as the voice for A Piece of Work, a new chat show created via a partnership between MoMA and the radio station WNYC, after logging time as a guest on Phoebe Robinson’s podcast Sooo Many White Guys, and, though she went to art school before taking off as a comedienne, she said she took care not to restore her memory too much.
“I didn’t refresh my art history because I wanted to be what I think a lot of people listening will be, which is not so in-the-know about everything they’re looking at,” Jacobson said. She was playing IRL host last night at a cocktail party at MoMA, with museum folks and radio workers assembled to toast the new show, which premieres July 10. It will run ten episodes, on themes ranging from everyday objects and abstraction to Minimalism and light. Guests include the comedian Hannibal Buress, writer/actress Tavi Gevinson, musician Questlove, and master-of-everything RuPaul as well as art-world characters like Carolee Schneemann, Martine Syms, Jo Baer, Flavin Judd, and MoMA curators Ann Temkin, Anne Umland, and Peter Eleey.
Asked which curator she found most revealing, Jacobson said, “I really hit it off with Anne Umland. She was a riot. She was down to go wherever I wanted and answer any dumb questions I had.”
Queried about her favorite artwork as a would-be artist growing up, she cited Matisse’s 1911 painting The Red Studio—which she got to stare down alone when MoMA was closed and quiet. “Matisse is a favorite because I grew up near the Barnes Foundation, which gives such an intimate view of his work,” she said. “When I saw The Red Studio in an empty gallery, I was blown away.”
Years ago, when new to New York, Jacobson tried to make herself a sort of unofficial employee of MoMA by guerrilla means. Aiming to sell greeting cards that she would write and illustrate herself, she would slip her own wares into card slots in the gift shop—”in the hopes,” she said, “that someone would pick one of my cards up, take it to the cash register, and try to buy it. The cashier would say, ‘This isn’t ours—whose is this? Let’s contact this person!’ It was a dumb way to try to get recognized, but that was part of my little story with MoMA.”
As for the approach for the show, which won’t stint on humor, she said, “I even went to art school and I feel insecure talking about art, what I know and don’t know, so I wanted it to be a raw conversation with people whose knowledge varies. We don’t talk about the facts of art—we just talk about our reactions and where they go. I hope people listen and come away with a sense that they can just go look at art and see what happens.”