Kelley Walker: Direct Drive (exhibition)

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Artist: Kelley Walker

Year: 2016

Date of Action: September-October 2016

Region: North America

Location: Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Installation, Mixed Media, Painting, Photography

Confronting Bodies: Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Description of Artwork: The exhibition 'Kelley Walker: Direct Drive' is a survey of works by white, Georgia-born artist Kelley Walker that opened at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, (CAMSTL) on September 15, 2016. Walker often incorporates and appropriates imagery from African American history in his works. Four of the works, which Walker created in 2006, use images from the Birmingham Movement and covers of hip-hop KING Magazine. The images of scantily clad African American women from KING covers were blown up, smeared with whitening toothpaste, and installed in so as to invite visitors to walk on the image of the woman's body. In other works, historical photographs of cops beating protestors in Birmingham were blown up (a la Warhol) and smeared with chocolate.

The Incident: The four works were offensive to members of the St Louis art community and African American community, who came to an artist/curator Q&A armed with questions: why did Walker choose to work with images of the black body? what were his intentions and the meanings he hoped to convey? (etc.) When Walker and curator Jeffrey Uslip were dismissive of these questions, St Louis community artists and activists called for a boycott of the museum and three museum staffers wrote a letter refusing to fulfill their obligations until demands were met. These demands included removing the offending works, public apologies, and the resignation of Uslip.

Results of Incident: The museum built a temporary wall with warning signage around the offending works and hosted a panel to center black voices as well as peaceful protests. Jeffrey Uslip resigned.


Exhibition, CAM: Kelley Walker: Direct Drive

Sept 22, 2016 Panel on Art and the Black Body

NCAC Blog: Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis Responds to Public Outcry Over Racially Charged Art, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

CAM St. Louis Curator Resigns Amid Racial Controversy, artnet News, Oct 11, 2016

CAM curator Uslip resigns after Walker exhibition controversy, by NANCY FOWLER & WILLIS RYDER ARNOLD, OCT 10, 2016


What the Contemporary St. Louis's Kelley Walker mistake looks (and reads) like | Pictures and more from my Thursday visit, by tylergreendc, Sept 29, 2016

Editorial: Censoring art could limit museums to smiley-face paintings and pretty flowers, By the Editorial Board, St. Louis Today

Contemporary Art Museum warns visitors about racially charged exhibit, SEPTEMBER 28, 2016, BY GERRON JORDAN

Racially-charged exhibit at Contemporary Art Museum walled off, By Rebecca Sheehan, KSDK, September 27, 2016

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis to Wall Off Exhibit After Public Outcry, ARTFORUM September 27, 2016

Racially charged works will be walled off at Contemporary Art Museum, By Debra D. Bass St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sep 27, 2016

[ Artist’s Depiction of Police Brutality Sparks Boycott at St. Louis Museum Artist Kelley Walker issues apology over images of police brutality smeared with chocolate], Brian Boucher, September 23, 2016

UPDATED, 9/29: Boycott of Controversial CAM Show Reveals St. Louis’ Fraught History with Race, Art. CAM placed walls around Kelley Walker's controversial works in "Direct Drive," earlier this week; now, curator Jeffrey Walker has issued a statement, and will take part in a discussion at CAM on October 7, By Stefene Russell September 22, 2016

Paula Cooper releases Kelley Walker statement of apology, Sept 21-23, 2016

Jeffrey Uslip letter

Appropriated Images of Black People Spark Boycott of St. Louis Museum, by Claire Voon, September 22, 2016

A Conversation With Kelley Walker Upon The Opening Of ‘Direct Drive’ At Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, By Rikki Byrd September 19