MIA Fights the Power at PS1

If any urban sociologists are at work to bring our understanding of the “hipster” up to speed with its latest, post-Obama incarnation — hopefully in the process looking to update its obnoxious nomenclature — they could have done worse than set up an observation platform at MoMA PS1 last night, where MIA threw an impromptu album-release concert and party. Together with the art hipsters who always come en masse to the Long Island City alternative space’s openings and Warm Up afternoons were a mob of music hipsters, distinguished by their stampede of sneakers in every synthetic material and retina-shocking hue known to man, all of them there to celebrate the Sri Lankan singer’s latest effort, MAYA. (Clearly, none of them were deterred by MIA’s brattish, if baited, turn in the New York Times Magazine, or her record’s thrashing by the very community she hopes to reach.)

The evening started out beautifully, with a select crowd of attractive young people showing off their studiedly desultory styles under the setting sun. (Most were from the record and fashion industries — the party was thrown together the previous Friday with no notice whatsoever, and emails were blasted over the weekend.) Tequila and beer flowed, Ninjasonic played a spirited hip-hop set, but the crowd was eager for MIA. Finally, she stepped up to the mic and began her set — only to have the power cut off. The neighbors, longtime foes of PS1’s more rambunctious ways, apparently had called the cops. “Fuck the po-lice,” MIA said. She announced the party would continue upstairs. Pandemonium.

Some attendees got kicked out by security, while the rest of the crowd mobbed the front doors of the museum. The only space upstairs actually suited to contain a concert was a big room on the third floor, which at the moment was occupied by Sharon Hayess installation as part of the “Greater New York” exhibition. As usual at PS1, improvisation was key. Curators called the artist, secured permission to de-install the piece (to be re-installed the next morning), and some of the crowd managed to squeeze past the various list-toting gatekeepers. Upstairs, art was taken down from the walls, two beer stands were set up (another instance of improv: when the cups ran out, the bartenders emptied Poland Spring bottles and filled them with beer), and people waited for MIA in the sweltering heat. Art projections the singer had worked on were displayed in the four corners of the room.At one point, PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach made a quick circuit of the sweltering room — somehow looking air-conditioned in a gray blazer — as if to ensure quality control on the semi-chaos.

When MIA appeared onstage, it was — surprise, surprise — in a hijab. (The Egyptian artist Nader Sadek pulled off this culture-jam to better effect two years ago at SculptureCenter, when he clothed his burly frame in Islamic womens’ garb and played air guitar to death metal accompaniment.) MIA’s concert, however, was short and sweet, energetic and visually engaging without being particularly musically interesting. As an event, however, the night had it all: excitement, authority-flouting, and booze. The hipsters went home happy.

For photographs from the concert, click the accompanying slide show.