Artist Ed Young Denies That His Racy Installation Was Censored by Armory Show’s Focus Curators

The Armory Show maintains that omitting the signage was a "collective decision."

Ed Young, Your Mom Balloons (2016).
Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.
2016 Armory Show 16

Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

Hours before the Armory Show’s opening day, a small controversy sparked around a piece of proposed  signage by South African artist and fair participant Ed Young, who claims that the work in question was censored from this year’s Focus show “African Perspectives,” according to ARTnews‘s Nate Freeman, who broke the story.

The giant text, which would have greeted fair goers at the main entrance, would have read “BLACK PUSSY,” and would have served as a companion graphic on the backside of a board that currently reads “ALL SO FUCKING AFRICAN.”

In an email to artnet News this morning, the Armory Show’s communications manager Audrey Rose Smith stood in solidarity with the Focus show’s curators Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba over their decision not to include the potentially controversial text.

“The curators, Yvette and Julia, along with the artist and the gallery made a collective decision on the artwork that was included to the fair,” Smith stated. “This has been their approach to the entire Focus, working directly with the galleries and their artist to collectively put together an incredible presentation.”

Ed Young, <em>Your Mom Balloons</em> (2016).<br>Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

Ed Young, Your Mom Balloons (2016).
Photo: Rain Embuscado for artnet News.

Young, a white South African, seemingly disagrees. A handout at the gallery about the brouhaha features an essay by Johannesburg-based critic Lwandile Fikeni, who explains, “the piece was rejected by the curators for, one imagines, its vulgarity—a vulgarity meant to operate as a language with which to speak about the ‘auto-exoticisation and the whoring of ‘our blacks’ in the art world.’ Ed’s words, not mine.”

The artist went on to hand out free balloons with the words “Your Mom” on them, which became one of the fair’s more popular features.

Ironically, the Armory’s Focus show in 2014 addressed issues of censorship by casting a spotlight on China in an effort to combat the country’s repressive reputation. As curator Philip Tinari told artnet News, the show was designed to “counter this idea that China is defined by a suspicious auction market and government repression and censorship.”

UPDATE: The artist has reached out to artnet News, insisting that the charge of “censorship” is a mischaracterization. He writes:

As to the issue with censorship, the work was finalized between myself and the curators. Neither The Armory Show nor the curators censored the work. Together with the curators we reworked the piece to it’s current form.

There were no flyers handed out at the booth (in protest). Nate Freeman is referring to the gallery text that is commonly found on all exhibitors desks at an art fair. This particular text was written by arts journalist Lwandile Fikeni, commissioned by the artist as a critique of the project, and is part of the work. Freeman makes the handing out of balloons seem part of this ‘protest’ however the balloons form part of the original installation conceived by the artist with the guidance of the curators.

Freeman’s article reconstructs sections of a conversation with myself and the gallery and recreates an inaccurate account. This seems to be done at the expense of the curators, the artist as well as The Armory Show as a whole.

UPDATE: artnet News has received the following comment from ARTnews rebutting Young’s remarks.

Ed Young told our reporter, however crudely, on the record, that he believed that his work was not shown because the curators of the fair’s focus section are “black and female.” His gallery also had press releases about the omission of the work in question available at the fair saying that “the censorship is absolutely anti-art” and that “Young had to change Black Pussy.” Young may have changed his position since speaking with us, but that doesn’t change the original story. We stand by our reporting.

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