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Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis to Wall Off Exhibit After Public Outcry

In the wake of public protests and disagreements among the staff of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis over the Kelley Walker exhibition, “Direct Drive,” that opened earlier this month, the museum has decided to erect barriers around the show, Debra D. Bass of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

The museum is walling off the exhibit, which features works that have been described as “racially and sexually charged,” so that it can first explain the exhibit to its visitors with informational signs that have been added to the entrance of the show. Once the visitors read the signs, they can decide whether they want to view Walker’s works.

Activists initially called for people to boycott the exhibition after Walker and the institution’s chief curator Jeffrey Uslip were unable to satisfactorily answer questions regarding why the artist appropriates images of the civil rights movement, race riots, and African American women from a gentlemen’s magazine during an artist talk hosted by CAM on September 17.

The exhibition has also divided the museum’s staff. Three black employees, De Andrea Nichols, Lyndon Barrois Jr., and Victoria Donaldson, wrote a letter to the senior directors of the institution in which they called for Uslip’s resignation, the removal of several “offensive” works, and an apology from the museum. If CAM does not address their concerns, they’ve threatened to not perform any of their duties that would support “Direct Drive,” such as give museum tours and promote the show.

In response to the backlash, the museum hosted a panel discussion between cultural leaders and black artists on Thursday, September 22. More than 350 people were in attendance.

Executive director Lisa Melandri said that she consulted with the board, her staff, and local artists about what the museum’s next steps should be.

In a statement the museum said: “Taking down the show would violate the museum’s core principles and end the productive dialogue that this work has initiated. CAM has a history of showing controversial artists; we have shown works that have challenged common sensibilities and presented work that has critiqued, in a difficult way, misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia and the military industrial complex, among other issues. Despite the debates and discomfort these exhibitions generated, we never removed them.”