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Censored at P.S. 1

Monday, March 01, 2010

We’ve been talking about the cultural differences between performance and visual art. On Saturday at P.S.1, those worlds collided with a nasty bang, when the museum apparently censored Ann Liv Young’s show at Saturday Sessions, its new performance art series.

I wasn’t there, but as best as I can piece together the museum cut power during one of Young’s typically raunchy, aggressive performances, which, according to eye-witness reports, included urine, masturbation, nudity and her calling out the previous artist, Georgia Sagri.  All of these things are to be expected when you book Young, and she’s performed in numerous New York theaters without being shut down; I have been told the museum was riled by the nudity, but have yet to get an official statement from P.S.

Check out this video of the next artist, Morty Diamond, performing in darkness. The lights come on, only to be cut again after he strips naked (yep, there’s nudity and profanity involved – who woulda thunk it??!):

The irony here is too rich. On the same day that Marina Abramović, a performance art diva, was signing books at P.S.1 for her upcoming MoMA retrospective, the museum was censoring a new generation of performance artists at a series it created to support these same artists??! What exactly were the curators expecting? Full report coming tomorrow. Stay tuned…

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Comments [25]

sherry

http://annlivyoung.com/videos.html

Mar. 04 2010 09:40 PM
Travis Chamberlain

I completely agree, Matthew. I find genre labels to be manifestations of a lazy consumer culture that wants things prepackaged and easy to digest so they can decide quickly whether or not they want to pay for it. This has created broad assumptions about the disparities of cultural value between "visual art" and "performance"... Artists like Tino Sehgal force us to question these value judgments, even while they may seem to exploit the imbalance. The dialogue it provokes is essential to forcing the system to change.

I also agree that the recent trend of performance being booked in museum's is both suspicious (to often, it feels very exploitative and disingenuous to me) and a very important and necessary evolution in the dialogue. I certainly identify with this more from the performing arts perspective than from the visual arts perspective. My involvement in a visual art museum is an attempt to move this cultural cross-pollination forward and to question things from the inside of the "other side" inasmuch as I am able and allowed.

Mar. 02 2010 06:20 PM
Mathew Pokoik from Mount Tremper, NY

@Claudia - "it speaks to that strange moment when institutions seek to absorb counter-academic traditions, at the same time as those traditions put on academic cloaks."
I'm right there with you on this, for me the interesting question here is not one of censorship, but of the culture cache and appropriation of counter culture phenomena by an elite cultural organization - and what happens when the two words collide. It also makes me think about how advertising and corporate culture have appropriated the counter culture / art / irony / music / and all things contrarian, in a brilliant move to cut it off at the legs, so to speak.

@Travis, you ask artists why they would enter into a visual art institutional context. I think an interesting and revealing question is why visual art museums want to engage with performance art. I do believe strongly, that it's an important thing to happen, if for no reason other than we've become so damn specialized in our own separate fields, like a horse wearing blinders (disclosure - I do run a multi-disciplinary space dedicated to just this type of cross-pollination). However, the cynic in me, want to cry foul, that what's really happening is an ill considered effort on the part of major institutions to be cool and hip, thus remaining relevant and sexy (very important for those funders). And with ALY, who is certainly gifted at calling the horse a horse, well, we're now discussing the aftermath.

Mar. 02 2010 05:42 PM
countercritic from Conversation Heights

Wouldn't it be more truthful/accurate/correct/honest to say "Ann Liv Young was playing Sherry, and Georgia was playing Georgia."? Or is performance never duplicitous, and surface is always real? Or, how you behave is always who you are? Not attacking, just curious.

Mar. 02 2010 05:17 PM
philip treviño from New York, NY

I wasn't at the event, so my thoughts are just on heresay and what I've read....

I feel that it is negligent to respond to a dangerous situation by turning off the lights. Having worked in the performance business for a number of years and common sense dictates that you would NEVER leave an audience in the dark in this way. It is a surefire way to spread terror and fear; which is potentially dangerous. I'm grateful to hear there wasn't a stampede for the doors with people crushed. Poor decision making on the part of PS1 if they were REALLY concerned with safety, as they state. Sounds like they are trying to deflate a situation of censorship by putting a poor excuse of a band-aid on it. Reminds me of how Seaworld said that the Orca attacked because the trainer was at fault by having her hair down and not the fault of the Killer Whale.

This also reminds me of when I was on tour with a classical modern dance company in North Carolina. The theatre asked me if there was nudity in the performance. I was kind of shocked that they had asked that. And not just because of my liberal views of freedom of expression, but because I felt that they should know what the presenters are presenting. The reason that I was given about the question was because another company was there before us and had topless women in the piece. The theatre staff was horrified, being in one of the most conservative areas of the U.S.. Of course, who knows about the reaction of the audience. But when you book a company or performer, you see videos of their previous work and have technical rehearsals before the audience gets to see the show. How could they not know? It is irresponsible for the presenters AND venue to not know what they are presenting and to not let the audience know before hand if there is nudity or adult themes. Then let the audience decide. Either they will purchase tickets, or they won't.

Lastly, I'm horrified to find that we are still dealing with censorship from venues that we expect to be on the forefront of freedom of expression, creativity, and speech. Whether you agree with the artist or not is the viewers opinion and the test of time will determine validity of the artist. But to dampen the potential of artists through censorship by telling them what they can and can't do is fatal to the organic nature of creativity and the arts. We would be going backwards and not forward.

Mar. 02 2010 04:42 PM
ann liv

it was not an escalating fight between ann liv and georgia. it was an assertive question posed by sherry done in a very very direct way. sherry had full control of what she was doing. georgia was indeed held back by some friends. sherry was playing sherry and georgia was playing georgia.

Mar. 02 2010 02:54 PM
Morty Diamond

The way I see the situation is that PS1 was reacting to the escalating fight between Ann Liv and Georgia Sagri. If they (PS1) were trying to make the space safe for the audience they did the exact opposite! Many of my friends in attendance said they felt fine up until the lights went out. Being in the dark after this strange but thought provoking interaction between Ann Liv and Georgia made many people feel scared and disoriented. Definitely not safe. No security came to escort people out and nobody said a word about what the hell was going on. I decided to perform in the dark only after I got such a warm response from the audience, letting me know they were still with me and wanted to see me perform. Dozens of cell phones illuminated me as I began to perform. A truly awe inspiring moment for me.
To be honest, I was nervous of someone attacking me in the darkness, be it a PS1 person,security guard, or spectator. In the end, it all worked out and the audience left without any major incidences occurring. My one statement about what Ann Liv Young was doing on stage that caused all this ruckus: Ann Liv is provocative and confrontational. It only takes FIVE minutes of googling her name to figure this out. She was invited to do her performance and she executed it the way she wanted to. Who can blame her? She was INVITED. Doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with her work. When you invite a performer to perform please STUDY their work first.

Mar. 02 2010 01:21 PM
Travis Chamberlain

Yes, the glass on the floor was really stupid. And turning out the lights in that environment, even dumber. Plastic cups, people! Meanwhile, were you selling drinks? Do you have a license to do that?

Whose to say the "censorship" performed by PS1 in this particular instance was not a desired climax for the piece? It may not have been planned, but it sounds kind of perfect to me. What is ALY's work about if not showing us how precious we are about the contexts and containers we create for viewing art? She refuses to let those containers allow her work to be easily dismissed and marginalized as "experimental performance." As a curator, one has the obligation to recognize that this is her modus operandi and to anticipate a direct challenge to your authority and to the integrity of your venue's values and house rules. She wouldn't be who she is if she didn't do this. One must seriously consider the value of cultural sadomasochism/nihilism when considering whether or not you will ask an artist like ALY to perform at your venue. It's not for the feint of heart. I respect ALY for that. However, I do think artists have an obligation to give their curators a clue as to what they are planning to do and how far they may go. Deceiving the trust of your curator is NOT COOL. The curator has to be able to work with the venue staff to ensure that the performers and the audience will be safe. Liability is real. The curator has to decide if the cost of the risk (i.e., additional security, etc.) is worth the effort.

To her credit, I feel like ALY is making curators, art directors, other artists, and audiences atone for their sins. ...Liking her is a bit like being a flagellant. It's painful and requires discipline, but it's not without its rewards (if not in this world, then perhaps in some other dimension).

Mar. 02 2010 01:02 PM
Morty Diamond

I do not buy 'it was for the safety of the audience' statement PS1 is making. My friends, who were there with me, said it was ONLY when the lights went out that they felt scared and disoriented. No security stepped up and nobody made a statement to the audience. It was very chaotic to say the least.

Mar. 02 2010 12:26 PM
Claudia La Rocco

It's not at all a laughing matter that PS1 had so little control over the performance space that it was allowed to be strewn with broken glass (this happened before Young's show, apparently). And I hope the museum at least compensates her for her medical expenses. But I couldn't help thinking of this SNL skit from the '70s. Bag O'Glass is about 3:10 in:

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/clips/irwin-mainway/1185611/

The absurdity of marketing broken glass to kids ...maybe Irwin Mainway should handle PS crisis PR...

Mar. 02 2010 12:22 PM
Ben Pryor from New York, NY via France

I have been trying to hold my comments for after the full post. I have also been waiting for PS1 to claim that their decision was in regard to safety. BULL!!! You think cutting the lights on a room full of people and a floor strewn with broken glass is making things SAFE?!?!?! That is totally bull. Then why did they keep things off for Morty? The "incident" was over at that point. So lame PS1....

Mar. 02 2010 12:01 PM
Claudia La Rocco

Ha! Coverup!

This whole thing is so weird. In a way it's a tempest in a teapot, and actually the museum's ill-considered actions actually made the afternoon much more interesting.

But on another level it speaks to that strange moment when institutions seek to absorb counter-academic traditions, at the same time as those traditions put on academic cloaks. The very idea of a museum series dedicated to emerging performance artists makes me giggle. Every single word in the description is funny, isn't it?

Mar. 02 2010 12:00 PM
countercritic

OMG, A COVERUP!

Mar. 02 2010 11:14 AM
Claudia La Rocco

Just got this from PS1 - hmmmm, something fishy:

STATEMENT
The decision by the Director of PS1 to curtail the performances near the end of Saturday Sessions was made to safeguard the audience, performers, and PS1 staff from an escalating and potentially volatile situation. The performers' actions were not previously discussed with or planned by PS1.

Mar. 02 2010 10:59 AM
Claudia La Rocco

Hey All ...thanks for the thoughtful comments. Travis, given the cultural differences, doesn't it behoove the museum to be extra sensitive to the unpredictability of a live event and have some sort of system in place for dealing with situations that make its staff uncomfortable? That said, it seems pretty clear from statements made by people there that this was a curatorial and not a security decision. I wish P.S.1 would stop this silly wall of silence business and explain the actual thinking.

@Civil and Brief - I don't think folks are trying to turn ALY or Diamond into martyrs (though it does strike me as pretty sad that she came away with lacerations to her legs because of broken glass in the room). I've heard from people who thought the performances were amazing, and people who thought they were eh. Seems like a pretty healthy and typical conversation about the art itself, no? I guess I'm not sure what the work being mediocre or not has to do with a discussion about how museums interact with a form that has often been anti-authority, as well as (To Travis' point) what it means for that form when it courts institutional cred.

@Sarvia - Thanks for the statement! I'd be curious to hear what you think it was if not censorship. And as a curator you surely were prepared for ALY's work, right? At least the strong possibility that she would do something provocative or upsetting.

Mar. 02 2010 09:59 AM
Sarvia Jasso

As one of the curators of BiB, I would like to take this opportunity to express my opinion about the event at PS1. Despite the fact that BiB is a collaborative project, my fellow curator Andres Bedoya and I have respectfully diverging opinions that have not necessarily been fully reflected in any of the statements posted thusfar.

While I do not claim to know the reason the museum turned the lights off, I can say that the perceived animosity and escalating verbal and gestural attacks in the room from one artist to another were absolutely antithetical to my understanding of what BiB represents. The situation ultimately compromised the participation of the other artists involved, causing the last artist to perform in the dark. Despite the unforeseen and unfortunate outcome, I remain committed to a completely open format for expression. I think the framework (content and context) for any ensuing discussions should take into account the complexities of experiencing a live performance within an institution, instead of jumping to the conclusion that the impetus for removing power during the event originated in an attempt at censoring the performers. A claim of censorship could easily develop into a self-serving mythology with its own inertia, which could then quickly become detached from the event itself. I think we need to be very clear that no one was asked to leave and all of the planned performances occurred during the course of the event.

From a curatorial point of view, a broad range of performances is vital to the program, but the underlying message always stays the same—BiB is forging a community that respects and celebrates diversity in all its complexities. Anybody who has ever attended a BiB event can attest to the fact that we try to create a positive environment in which to present work that can be challenging and, at times, difficult to digest.

Mar. 02 2010 09:07 AM
Civil and Brief

Marina Abramović became a performance art diva because she is not a whiner. And because she is a very good performer. I only saw mediocre performers at PS1. And I see a lot of whiners now. Of course, PS1 made a terrible, unapcettable mistake. But do we really want to turn ALY and Morty Diamond into martyrs now? If urine, masturbation, nudity etc are expected when ALY performs, I would not be so concerned about cersorship. I would argue about predictability; I would talk about art. When art is predictable is never deep. This is what Marina Abramović taught us a long time ago.

Mar. 02 2010 02:52 AM
Travis Chamberlain from New York City

(Continued from previous post)

(If you take a punk band and put it in an art museum and the art museum is still standing when the band is finished, is it still punk?)

Questions for performers: Given these restrictions, why is it desirable to have your work seen in an art museum context? What does the art museum bring to your work that the downtown theater/dance world cannot (or, perhaps, does not)? What do you gain? What do you lose? Is it more valuable to have your work curated by a visual art curator or a performing arts curator? What if the performing arts curator works in a visual art institution, as I do, presenting performances in the theater/"lecture hall," but not in the gallery spaces (because such gallery performances fall under the purview of visual art curators)? What gives me agency to curate performance in a theater space but not in a gallery space?

Mar. 02 2010 01:00 AM
Travis Chamberlain from New York City

According to Gothamist: The curators of the event say, "P.S.1 acted alone in its attempt to shut down the event and censor an artist. We reject censorship in any form and disagree with P.S.1’s actions." We've asked the museum why they decided to censor these performances, and will update when they give us their comment.

I wonder if this was something that PS1 security decided to do...or if it was done by the director (as Morty Diamond says in the video). I can understand how the security staff might freak out if they didn't know this was going to happen. I understand how one might wonder how far she would go and if the audience might be in danger, or even if the other artwork in the building might be in danger. With some of the performances I've coordinated at the New Museum, I've been confronted with similar issues, and it's an incredibly intense moment when it happens. Off-the-cuff messy things that I got away with very easily as a curator of performance in downtown theater venues quickly become huge trespasses of security protocol in a museum context. On the one hand, you understand part of the value of the performance is in its confrontation of the restrictions and formalities of the fancy-pants fine art context. The unpredictable danger in this very controlled environment is inherent to the meaning of the work. On the other hand, the museum is liable for all damages to the artwork and responsible for ensuring the safety of the audience. Consider the fact that museums have security staff on duty 24 hours a day while theaters like PS122, The Kitchen, DTW, etc. do not have any security whatsoever (or at least, I don't think they do...?). Safety and security are huge concerns for museums.

...HOWEVER, I'm sure the situation would have been different if the performance had taken place in one of the museum's gallery spaces as a "work of art." In this context, the performance would have been curated by the institution's visual art curators (a very important distinction--case in point, Tino Sehgal's curator at the Guggenheim). I can imagine it playing out like a Dash Snow (RIP) nest performance or like Jason Rhoades' (RIP) "Black Pussy" for an audience that signed waivers of some sort and was given access to this very privileged engagement--i.e., the ILLUSION of a chaotic and unpredictable event carefully contained within a VERY controlled white wall environment. Under such circumstances, the planning for such containment would be extensive and discussed for weeks/months ahead of time, and I'm sure lots of contracts would be signed releasing the museum from liability, etc. etc. It's a lot more spontaneous in downtown theater/dance. That spontaneity is, at least in some small part, the trade-off that one makes for the "big bucks" of the upper crust art world.

Mar. 02 2010 12:59 AM
Travis Chamberlain from New York City

According to Gothamist: The curators of the event say, "P.S.1 acted alone in its attempt to shut down the event and censor an artist. We reject censorship in any form and disagree with P.S.1’s actions." We've asked the museum why they decided to censor these performances, and will update when they give us their comment.

I wonder if this was something that PS1 security decided to do...or if it was done by the director (as Morty Diamond says in the video). I can understand how the security staff might freak out if they didn't know this was going to happen. I understand how one might wonder how far she would go and if the audience might be in danger, or even if the other artwork in the building might be in danger. With some of the performances I've coordinated at the New Museum, I've been confronted with similar issues, and it's an incredibly intense moment when it happens. Off-the-cuff messy things that I got away with very easily as a curator of performance in downtown theater venues quickly become huge trespasses of security protocol in a museum context. On the one hand, you understand part of the value of the performance is in its confrontation of the restrictions and formalities of the fancy-pants fine art context. The unpredictable danger in this very controlled environment is inherent to the meaning of the work. On the other hand, the museum is liable for all damages to the artwork and responsible for ensuring the safety of the audience. Consider the fact that museums have security staff on duty 24 hours a day while theaters like PS122, The Kitchen, DTW, etc. do not have any security whatsoever (or at least, I don't think they do...?). Safety and security are huge concerns for museums.

...HOWEVER, I'm sure the situation would have been different if the performance had taken place in one of the museum's gallery spaces as a "work of art." In this context, the performance would have been curated by the institution's visual art curators (a very important distinction--case in point, Tino Sehgal's curator at the Guggenheim). I can imagine it playing out like a Dash Snow (RIP) nest performance or like Jason Rhoades' (RIP) "Black Pussy" for an audience that signed waivers of some sort and was given access to this very privileged engagement--i.e., the ILLUSION of a chaotic and unpredictable event carefully contained within a VERY controlled white wall environment. Under such circumstances, the planning for such containment would be extensive and discussed for weeks/months ahead of time, and I'm sure lots of contracts would be signed releasing the museum from liability, etc. etc. It's a lot more spontaneous in downtown theater/dance. That spontaneity is, at least in some small part, the trade-off that one makes for the "big bucks" of the upper crust art world.

Mar. 02 2010 12:58 AM
Claudia La Rocco

I just had such an interesting conversation with ALY--made me eager to see her next work, and wonder if I've been off in previous critical assessments.

I'm with Mathew - blind curating all the way...

Mar. 01 2010 09:43 PM
Mathew Pokoik

"What exactly were the curators expecting?" was just my thought. The only thing I can think is that the PS 1 curators had no idea what they were programing - I mean come on! It's just another day in the life of Ann Liv here. Was this a case of blind curating? Programing because of a cool factor rather than actually being familiar with her work? Otherwise, why would they be surprised?

Mar. 01 2010 08:57 PM
Claudia La Rocco

Hahaha - indeed, Carleigh. And hear hear, CC. It's so interesting to me how incidents like this tend to get lost in the larger historical narrative about how supportive of experimental/outre work the visual art world is compared to the "conservative" environs of theater and dance. To be sure, that narrative has a lot of truth to it - but it's not the whole story.

What's also strange to me in reading lots of accounts online about the show is how few people seem to acknowledge that ALY has a persona onstage, that she wasn't just attacking a fellow artist because she flew into a rage. We can debate the merits of her art, but to not even allow that it exists is nutso.

Mar. 01 2010 07:59 PM
Carleigh

how else is she supposed to wash down all the bbq'd pork bits she emanated and then ate (un-censored, I might add) at PS122 last summer?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urophagia

Mar. 01 2010 07:47 PM
Counter Critic

CENSORSHIP IS ABSURD.

Mar. 01 2010 07:36 PM

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