work. Walker came off as defensive, rather than insightful, as he asked, “Aren’t we all capitalizing off someone?” and “Who is toothpaste hurting?” Davis stated that then chief curator Jeffrey Uslip quickly interrupted the conversation in an attempt to explain Walker’s work for him. The dismissive responses from Walker sparked a call to boycott CAM and the resignation of Jeffrey Uslip who curated the exhibit. The CAM director Lisa Melandri quickly issued an apology for Walker’s seeming annoyance with his audience and dismissiveness toward their questions. In it, she stated that the museum is a “[…] space that welcomes questions and people who expect answers to their questions.” Uslip did not engage in any further dialogue on the controversial artworks. Part of this series of events occurred before the exhibition ever opened. Prior to the exhibit's opening, it had already been criticized by staff members at the CAM for the celebration of a white artist who appeared to carelessly use black cultural content. An open letter signed by three black staff members was released to the public. The letter stated that: “...St. Louis exists as a central location for the contemporary civil rights movement in the aftermath of the unrest in Ferguson, the work triggers a re-traumatization of racial and regional pain…” And that: “Expressed concerns and insight by CAM’s museum staff were not honored and taken into consideration by the chief curator when organizing the exhibition, as numerous staff--particularly people of color and women--vocalized great discomfort and disdain on numerous occasions leading to the installation…”
Sticky notes on window at Contemporary Art Museum after protest action (photo credit: Richard Reilly)
Dialogue on the controversial pieces continued on September 22, when Critical Mass for the Visual Arts hosted a panel discussion titled: Art and the Black Body, at the CAM. The panelists referred to Walker’s representation of African-Americans in the Direct Drive exhibit to examine the usage of black bodies in contemporary art. There were many opinions expressed at the event, but a general consensus was determined: a demand for the CAM to remove Schema, Black Star Press, as well as an artwork titled White Michael Jackson. It was further stated that CAM’s ongoing support of the offensive artworks acted as an extension of white supremacy by exploiting the oppression of African-Americans for profit. In Walker’s apology issued to artnet.com he stated that he was “a staunch advocate of social equality and civil rights in America” and that he intended to create a dialogue on how black bodies are represented in the media. If Walker truly intended to draw attention to the oppression and misrepresentation of black people then he certainly did, but not in a way that he intended.
Black CAM staff members, artists, activists and other community members have made a stand in St. Louis. That stand could have, and arguably should have, been made in New York, Berlin and other places where Walker’s appropriated images have exhibited. To paraphrase artist Kahlil Irving at the Art and the Black Body panel discussion, these artworks have been passed on with a “Yes” and without any substantial critique from one lazy “expert” to another (bringing 6-digit sales at auction) for a decade. St. Louis, Missouri - once known for its “Compromise” on slavery, now nicknamed the “Show Me State” - was not known as the place where racism was called out and addressed before August 9, 2014. Our region has played a significant role in waking up the nation since Mike Brown was shot to death, and artists have played a major role in sounding the alarm. Perhaps, we are onto something.
IN WHICH TOM HUCK OFFENDS EVERYONE By Tom Huck COMMENTARY
Have I offended anyone? THERE IS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.......I'm not gonna talk bad about another artist's work in a public forum.......so lets make this about me. When all the stuff recently hit the fan at the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) here in St. Louis, an art dealer/friend/confidant of mine, during heated exchange, said to me "well, your work is offensive too!" I was kind of floored, though I have dealt with this percep23 ALLTHEARTSTL.COM WINTER 2016/17
tion for the last 20 years. But this time, in light of the recent turmoil at the CAM, I was taken aback a bit and started thinking about what it means in my own work to walk the fine line between what is outright offensive and what safely falls into the realm of parody and satire. My work certainly falls into the latter; however, this is not achieved easily and has come through years of study, drawing, art historical precedent and sincerity. And an awareness of my audience. COMMENTARY
I’m a printmaker. I make original multiples that can reach a wide range of people. The entire history of the medium of printmaking is known as a democratic one, and for the common man. When you can make copies of something, it’s only natural to start spouting off about stuff, political or otherwise. One only has to get ahold of any book on the history of prints and it becomes apparent rather quickly to the reader that most of printmaking's glorious history is filled with social commentary