CAM Curator Who Defended Racially Charged Exhibit Resigns


One of Kelley Walker's controversial pieces in CAM's "Direct Drive" exhibition. - PHOTO BY DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Photo by Danny Wicentowski
  • One of Kelley Walker's controversial pieces in CAM's "Direct Drive" exhibition.

Jeffrey Uslip, the curator responsible for bringing the controversial "Direct Drive" exhibit to the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis, has abruptly resigned his post.

Uslip was hired in 2014 as Director for Exhibitions and Programs/Chief Curator. According to a press release from the museum, Uslip has "unexpectedly accepted a new position at another institution."

Although the press release is light on details, it's easy to make a connection between Uslip's exit and the weeks-long controversy over his latest exhibition, Kelley Walker's "Direct Drive." As detailed in this week's Riverfront Times cover story, Uslip attracted criticism from local black artists for defending Walker's racially charged work. The exhibition includes a digitally processed magazine cover featuring a black woman splattered with toothpaste. 

See also: Kahlil Irving Makes Art That Grapples with Race — and Life

During a September 17 artist talk, Walker reportedly dismissed concerns and questions about the specific motivations behind his work. Uslip defended the New York City-based artist, and was quoted saying that Walker was "the one contemporary artist of our generation that is thinking through history, race, identity, and their lasting evolving and rotating implications."

In a letter delivered September 22, three CAM employees demanded that Uslip resign from his post and that the museum remove the offensive pieces of Walker's exhibition. Instead, CAM placed walls around the particular pieces in the exhibit. Signs were also added at the entrance to the gallery, notifying visitors: "This gallery contains content that may be difficult for some viewers."

The CAM press release (which you can read in full below) does not provide details on Uslip's new gig. 

October 10, 2016 (St. Louis, MO) – Jeffrey Uslip, Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs / Chief Curator for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM), unexpectedly accepted a new position at another institution. In light of Uslip’s decision, CAM will immediately commence a national search for a new curator.

Uslip became Chief Curator at CAM in 2014. His exhibitions include Mark Bradford: Receive Calls on Your Cell Phone From Jail; Hurvin Anderson: Backdrop; and Jesse Howard, one of Missouri’s seminal self-taught artists. Uslip organized the museum debuts of Laurie Simmons’s Two Boys and The Love Doll and Katharina Fritsch’s Postcards; he also presented first solo museum exhibitions by Arcangelo Sassolino, Mark Flood, Wyatt Kahn, Jon Rafman, and Liat Yossifor. Uslip’s most recent show for CAM, Kelley Walker: Direct Drive, is the artist’s first solo American museum exhibition.

“As a non-collecting institution, CAM depends upon its curators to showcase not only artists who are well recognized in the contemporary art world, but also emerging artists who may not find a voice elsewhere,” said Lisa Melandri, Executive Director. “During his time at CAM, Jeffrey introduced museum audiences to a wide variety of perspectives, and brought a diverse array of artists and practices to CAM and St. Louis.

“We are excited to begin our national search for the next CAM Chief Curator,” added Melandri. “This is a pivotal time for the Museum and for our community, as we examine museum and curatorial best practices and apply those to everything we do at CAM. We look forward to our future, which will be informed not only by our new curator, but also by CAM staff and by our cultural and civic leaders.”

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.