P.S.1's Feud with Obscene Artist Ann Liv Young Escalates

P.S.1's Feud with Obscene Artist Ann Liv Young Escalates
The P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (now MoMA P.S.1) has traditionally presented itself as a permissive environment, embracing its location in a former Long Island City schoolhouse as a way to underscore the institution's commitment to experimentation and a kind of perpetual creative adolescence. But now, with the case of Ann Liv Young, it seems that even in this school it is still possible to be expelled. The provocative artist, who this February presented a performance piece as part of the center's "Saturday Sessions" that was so obscene that MoMA P.S.1 director Klaus Biesenbach ordered that the room's power be cut, has been barred from appearing at the institution — even though she has been invited by artist A.L. Steiner to join her in performance in a studio there that Steiner occupies as part of her inclusion in "Greater New York."

According to a report in the New York Times, P.S.1 has vetoed the return appearance that Steiner — whose piece in the ongoing P.S.1 group show is a room filled with amateur pornography — planned for Young on September 5. As a result, Young told the paper that she's consulting with an attorney to see if P.S.1's contract with Steiner for the studio permits the center to regulate what happens in the allegedly free-form space. If she is unable to perform in the institution, Young is threatening to take her art to the streets immediately around P.S.1.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, P.S.1 provided some nuance to the firm rejection of Young's participation conveyed to the Times: "Through the Greater New York exhibition, MoMA P.S.1 has invited select artists from the show to produce new work and performances in free studio space within the building, which offers artists the opportunity to experiment with new ideas privately with the possibility of engaging visitors of the museum. The artist A. L. Steiner has been given a room, shared with other selected Greater New York artists. All public presentations by the studio artists are reviewed by MoMA P.S.1 in advance, and will be announced at the appropriate time. MoMA P.S.1 has not yet received a proposal from A. L. Steiner that involves Ann Liv Young, but we look forward to learning more from Steiner about how she would like to use her studio space."

The controversy over Young arose from a performance she put on at the center in February at an event curated by Brooklyn is Burning, an entity composed of Sarvia Jasso and Andres Bedoya that was known for organizing events that were often body-oriented, drawing on LGBT culture. In the performance, Young picked a fight with another participating artist, Georgia Sagri, brutally insulting her work as part of an overall piece that included masturbation and peeing in a bucket. It was when the exchange between the artists became heated that Biesenbach — a champion of body art, whose 2006 P.S.1 exhibition "Into Me/Out of Me" celebrated the extremes of the genre — shut down the proceedings, leaving the artists to finish clumsily in the blacked-out room. According to the Times, Young "fell in the darkness, cutting her knee and spilling a bucket of her own urine on herself."

Following the incident, Brooklyn is Burning's founders parted ways over difference of opinion about what had happened. Bedoya has characterized Biesenbach's action as censorship, showing a failure of institutional nerve to allow transgression. Sarvia, on the other hand, agreed that the event became out of control, and moreover released a statement urging the conversation to move on: "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."