No matter how much you tilt your head to the side and recite whatever scraps of facts you remember from art history 101, admit it: You have no idea what’s going on with that artwork you’ve been gawking at for 20 minutes.
But Abbi Jacobson wants you to know that’s perfectly fine.
New York City’s Museum of Modern Art and WNYC Studios have teamed up with the Broad City star for A Piece of Work, a podcast where Jacobson explores various themes in iconic works of art in the MoMA with a rotating cast of celebrity guests including Tavi Gevinson, RuPaul, and Questlove, as well as curators and educators–all with the intention of making modern art less intimidating.
“Sometimes it can feel inaccessible and it can feel pretentious and it can make you feel like you don’t know and you will never know–and I think that that’s ok, but people don’t talk about it,” Jacobson says. “So it was exciting to approach it from that idea of, it’s ok to not know everything. But also to recognize that there’s a lot of really important things being expressed through art that are worth learning about–and that there are very drastic different ways of looking at art.”
Although Jacobson is loath to admit any sort of expertise in this area, she’s not necessarily swooping in completely blind. Before getting into comedy and acting, Jacobson studied fine arts at Maryland Institute College of Art.
“It is really important to me what I do besides Broad City because that’s what people know me for, but this felt like a no-brainer. I went to art school and I grew up with a family of artists, so this is in my blood,” Jacobson says. “But I was very nervous at first about my knowledge of art history, and I did not brush up at all. I just felt like my demo, I’m sure a ton of them will have more knowledge than I will, but they’re not coming to me to be an expert. I just embrace that. We’re open to not knowing–that’s how I like to go into museums, anyway.”
Naturally, for this podcast, Jacobson made multiple trips to the MoMA, yet was still able to be surprised by even the most studied works of art. Take, for example, Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture Bicycle Wheel. In episode one of A Piece of Work, Jacobson and comedian/Broad City co-star Hannibal Buress try to wrap their collective minds around what Duchamp was trying to express.
“I never realized how much humor was behind it and how he’s testing the art world, and what art was, and who an artist can be, and just really sort of saying ‘fuck you’ to what was going on at the time,” Jacobson says. “Sometimes I really want to know the artist’s full intentions before looking at the art and sometimes I just wanted to look at the art and think about what it made me think about. And that’s my goal with this, is for people who don’t always look at art to know however you want to go about it is right.”