Contemporary Art Museum warns visitors about racially charged exhibit

ST. LOUIS (KPLR) - The Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis is making modifications to their exhibit viewing gallery after the opening of a new exhibit.

Kelley Walker's 'Direct Drive' exhibit opened on September 16TH; portions of the exhibit features photographs from the Civil Rights Movement and modern African-American magazine covers.  The images are smeared with whitening toothpaste, chocolate and milk.

CAM describes the work as Walker's confronting audiences with "important questions of social responsibility and systematic complacency, often bringing 1960's imagery into today's charged social and political context".

However, many taking to social media say Walker's work is hurtful and offensive to black history and culture.  St. Louis artist Damon Davis took to Facebook calling for a boycott of the museum, writing in part, "If I took pictures from the holocaust and smeared peanut butter on them, the entire world would be at my throat".

"We wanted to listen to that inasmuch as we could make this space one that privileges viewer choice" said CAM Executive Director.  "As a Contemporary Art Museum, in many cases we have shown throughout our history-and will continue to show- works that are difficult or deemed offense to people and so this was very much about respecting the response of the public to again allow choice" she said.

On Wednesday, signage warning viewers of content in the exhibit and a partition, blocking the exhibit from plain view was put up.  Melandri says it's not about censoring the art, but being sensitive to other's feelings.

"By creating a different experience for viewing the work is not about censorship but it is about sensitivity" said Melandri.  "And we felt that it was very, very important to respond to the people for whom this work was painful or difficult".

Melandri says despite the calls to have the exhibit removed, it will remain through the end of the year, but modifications to the exhibit's wording and viewing will continue.

"A decision to modify the way you view a work may not be appeasement for many and that of course is their right" she said.  "For us, we felt that it was institutionally the right move to make to allow the works to remain on view" Melandri said.

In a statement, Artist Kelley Walker said, "I hope that the St. Louis community will give my exhibition a chance to generate this conversation. I also hope that the community, as well as the museum, its director and its staff, will understand how much I regret the misunderstanding and the ill feeling caused thus far".

The Direct Drive exhibit will be open at the Contemporary Art Museum through the end of December.