Reflection of the Times: Racially Charged Art Subject to Boycott at St. Louis Contemporary Art Museum

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Star, Star, Star Press

If a piece of art offends someone, that's often a key indicator to the artist that he or she has done the job correctly.

Kelley Walker is trodding in the controversy-laden footsteps of Robert Mapplethorpe. Both use the medium of photography with a 'little something extra' added to it. But where Mapplethorpe gained notoriety for tackling religion as a subject with the infamous "Piss Christ," Walker focuses on a different subject -- race relations -- and the backlash is, quite probably, predictable, as his critics are calling for his body of work, "Direct Drive," to be removed from display at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis.

Yes, even in these enlightened post-millennial times, when we meet something we don't like we try to censor it.

One of the images deemed offensive is the photographic triptych, "Black Star Press: Star, Star, Star Press," which takes a confrontation with black protesters and white police officers and seemingly smears it (via silkscreen) with white, milk, and dark chocolate 'paint.'

Responding the the exhibition, Damon Davis, a St. Louis artist, commented via Facebook, "Schools take black children to this gallery, when they see these images, they are being told that their bodies, their history and their stories are disposable and always up for use by any privileged white man and institution that feels like using them to get some press." Davis followed this post with another on his timeline that seems to hint strongly toward a protest against the museum.

Davis isn't the only one upset. Three black members of the Contemporary Art Museum's staff -- De Andrea Nichols, Lyndon Barrois Jr., and Victoria Donaldson -- have formally asked that four of the pieces be removed and that the museum issue a formal apology as well ast te resignation of the museum's chief curator, Jeffrey Uslip.

In a time where calling racial relations in America 'a powderkeg' is almost a sublime understatement, it will be interesting to see if the museum stands behind free expression or placates the offended.