A version of this story originally appears in the July 7, 2017 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Pick it up on stands, or buy it here now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
If you’ve ever stared at a piece of modern art and pretended like crazy to understand it, Abbi Jacobson feels your pain. And she’s here to help.
In A Piece of Work, a new podcast from WNYC Studios and MoMA, the Broad City actress will guide listeners to better appreciate contemporary works from artists such as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Yoko Ono, among others. Along for the ride will be curators, creators, and some celebrity pals, like RuPaul, Questlove, Hannibal Buress (pictured below), and Tavi Gevinson.
Ahead of the podcast’s July 10 launch, Jacobson gives EW a preview.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on your first podcast! What made you want to do it?
ABBI JACOBSON: When I did [Phoebe Robinson’s] Sooo Many White Guys podcast earlier this year, I was thinking about how much I like podcasts and enjoy talking to new people. I don’t know who would say no to an opportunity like this. It’s perfect for me: I went to art school, and I’d been wanting to get back into the art world after being away from it. When [WNYC and MoMA] approached me, at first I felt like I should refresh myself in the basics of modern art history. And then I decided not to, because I wanted to go in like I would now, and like most of the people listening.
What kind of artwork will you and your guests discuss on the show?
A lot of them are more abstract, so we’re looking at paintings that are just one color, or we’re looking at video art, and we’re talking more about the intentions of the artist. I didn’t invite Hannibal [Buress] to come to the museum to give me historical facts about art, I invited him because to have a conversation about artwork with him is so fun. Sometimes the art world can be a scary place and you feel like you should know more than you do, but it’s okay to not know everything!
You’ll also be talking about some surprising things like the original emoji set, and the @ symbol, which MoMA acquired. I didn’t know you could acquire that!
Me neither! That is just a whole other part of it, where you start to think about, what is art? And what is acquirable? What belongs in a museum? And just because you can’t see it or feel it, why is the web and the digital world that we live in not included in the conversation about art? It was so exciting to talk to Paola Antonelli, the person who brought both of those exhibitions to MoMA. And I’m talking to Questlove about what he thinks about emojis, because he’s a huge emoji user.
How did you pair certain guests with certain artworks?
Well Questlove has an Yves Klein print in his house so when we found that out we were like, obviously we’re going to talk about that one with him because he’s a fan. I talked to Tavi [Gevinson] about Andy Warhol, and I thought that she’d be great because the question I talked to her about was, “I wonder what Andy Warhol would have been like with the internet and with social media.” I feel like the mass production aspect of his work is kind of what social media is, and viral-ness, and Tavi is so incredibly involved online, with Rookie and everything.
A common reaction to modern art for a layperson is “I could do that.” How do you respond to that notion?
I think that is a natural reaction. You go to a restaurant and there’s the most simple dish on the menu but it’s incredibly delicious and you’re like, “Well, that’s just a carrot.” But they managed to make it incredible! Something Questlove said that I thought was so powerful was, “Well, did it spark debate? Are we talking about whether or not this white painting belongs in a museum?” It really comes down to: It’s there. It’s on the wall. You think you could have done it, but you didn’t do it.
Were there any artworks that you looked at that you went in kind of skeptical of but fell in love with after the process?
Well one that came to mind is Andy Warhol’s soup cans. It’s not that I wasn’t a fan of Andy Warhol, because I like his work. I think I just had gotten caught up in the mass production of his work, but that is also part of his work, mass production. That’s like, the whole thing.
I just went in being like, “Okay, I’ve seen these. I know exactly what they are. What’s so special about these cans?” [But] they’re all originals, and they actually made me think of my drawings. I was like, “What? Like, I draw products! My last book is just me drawing s— like that. I’m so clearly influenced by his work. And I love seeing the rawness of someone’s line when they draw or paint. I like the imperfections, and I really fell in love with the series of soup cans. The more I learned about him, the more I found his story, and the sort of art-star quality that he created, to be so interesting. I didn’t necessarily feel that way coming in.
Your character on Broad City is an aspiring artist. Will she make headway in her art career this season?
Abbi’s job takes some major turns. We’ll see her try her hand at a bunch of things, including selling her art. She’s trying to make that happen.
Do you see her ever doing a podcast?
I don’t think so, but if she did it would be silly and fun and probably with Ilana [Glazer]. But who knows. Abbi’s creative, and in this season she’s really open to anything.
In the end, what do you hope to get from this podcast experience?
I think the goal is just to make art a little more accessible to people — or just to have people be curious about something that they might not be. I am really on this journey with the audience, and that’s not how I usually approach a project. I usually go in with a lot of control and knowledge about the thing I’m doing, and this was outside of my comfort zone. I was like, “I’m here to learn.” I hope when you listen, you feel that way too.