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CAM St. Louis chief curator resigns amid Kelley Walker controversy


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The St. Louis American reports that Jeffrey Uslip, chief curator of the Contemporary Arts Museum in St. Louis, has resigned from his post following widespread upset over the racially insensitive Kelley Walker exhibition he organized for the museum. He has reportedly been offered a position elsewhere.

In the controversial CAM exhibition, Walker, a white artist, appropriated images of police brutality from the Civil Rights era by printing them on canvas, juxtaposing them with “urban lifestyle magazine” centerfolds, and then splattering the composition with Ab-Ex style splooges of toothpaste and chocolate. While this work would be a bad idea anytime and anywhere, it seems like an especially bad idea in 2016 in St. Louis, where race relations are still so raw after the shooting of Michael Brown and the following Ferguson protests. In fact, it seems paramount for art museums and white artists and curators alike to actually showcase their solidarity for people of color.

Despite all of this, and several of her employees refusing to work their support roles for the Walker exhibition, CAM Executive Director Lisa Melandri has chosen to keep the exhibition up and running. Read the report from The St. Louis American in partial below, in full here.

The controversy began after a September 17 gallery talk with Walker, when community artists felt Walker and Uslip wouldn’t answer their questions. Artist and activist Damon Davis called for a boycott of the museum immediately after the talk.

When he heard Uslip resigned from CAM to take a position elsewhere, Davis posted one line on Facebook: “Jeffrey ran, just so we clear.”

Shortly after the controversy began, three African-American administrative employees wrote a letter to museum leaders calling for the exhibit’s removal and Uslip’s resignation. Employees Lyndon Barrois Jr., De Andrea Nichols and Victoria Donaldson, said they were not themselves resigning, but would not perform various professional duties in support of Walker’s exhibition.

Nichols said she learned about Uslip’s resignation at the same time as the public and she has been asked not to comment.

“I can express that, in tandem with things in the letter, I look forward to the work that is to come,” Nichols said. “I think we have the right people in staff and in the community to make sure the next steps are better that what has transpired over the past few weeks.”

Ahead of Uslip’s resignation, CAM Executive Director Lisa Melandri made it clear during a public discussion on October 7 that the museum will stand by Walker’s controversial work.

“It was a very thoughtful and thought-through decision to not remove the work,” Melandri said during the discussion. “I personally wish to let the artist that we choose to show here understand that we have chosen their works and we put them up on these walls and that we will honor that commitment to them.”

*Image: Kelley Walker, Black Star Press (rotated 90 degrees), 2006 via ArtNet.