The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) presents Kelley Walker: Direct Drive, the first solo American museum exhibition by multidisciplinary artist Kelley Walker, on view September 16 through December 31, 2016. Since the early 2000s, Walker has developed a multifaceted body of work that alters and subverts some of our most ubiquitous cultural, political, and social signifiers. Not only is Direct Drive a comprehensive examination of the artist’s work to date, it includes several new bodies of work made specifically for the exhibition. Direct Drive fills every space in the Museum—galleries, Project Wall, and mezzanine, as well as the facade of the building—interspersing extant and new work, allowing viewers to experience the connections between them.
With nods to artistic influences ranging from Andy Warhol to Jackson Pollock and Sigmar Polke, Walker’s work interrogates the ways a single image can migrate into a number of cultural contexts. Throughout his career, Walker has explored the manipulation and repurposing of images in order to destabilize issues of identity, race, class, sexuality, and politics. Often using such technologies as 3-D modeling software and laser-cutting, the artist works in a variety of media, including photography, painting, printmaking, collage, and sculpture. In an era of digital reproduction, Walker’s work draws attention to popular culture’s perpetual consumption and reuse of images.
Direct Drive presents examples from the artist’s major bodies of work, including Black Star Press, schema, Recycling signs, Disasters, Bricks, and Volkswagen Bug. In his Recycling series, sculptures of the iconic recycling symbol—inspired by the endless intertwining of a Möbius strip—appear in numerous manifestations. Laser-cut, overlaid with advertisements, and pressed with gold leaf, the works suggest that, within a consumer culture, everything and everyone is subject to reinvention. Walker’s Brick series, an ongoing project since 2003, elaborates on the artist’s investigation of the mutability of image and material, translating a digital scan of a brick into silkscreen prints with newspaper and magazine pages inserted in the negative space, symbolically constituting the mortar that holds each printed brick face in place.
A parallel to Warhol’s canonical 1964 painting Race Riot, Walker’s Black Star Press series comprises images of racial unrest that have been digitally printed on canvas, silkscreened with melted white, milk, and dark chocolate, and rotated in ninety- degree increments. These manipulations mask and partially censor the act of police brutality with a perishable material as well as alter the power dynamic between the image’s subjects. Similarly, in his series schema; Aquafresh plus Crest with Whitening Expressions, the artist scans smears of toothpaste directly onto a flatbed scanner. Digitally overlaying the scans onto a variety of images—including the cover of men’s hip-hop magazine KING—Walker creates gestural abstractions and alludes to consumption, objectification, and impermanence.
Among the new works Walker presents at CAM is a “mimic wall” sculpture—a physical doubling of one of the Museum’s walls, which is displayed at an angle to the original structure. Referencing the practice of digitally copying and pasting, Walker’s wall is an exact replica that manifests a digital concept in the physical world. Walker also debuts a new series of sculptures comprising MacBook Pros that have been laser-cut, folded, and turned inside-out, as well as a four-foot-wide chocolate disco ball that continually turns at the speed of six rotations per minute. The artist presents a forty-foot-long brick painting based on the gray concrete of the Museum as well as a site-specific projection on the Museum’s facade—as part of CAM’s Street Views series. He also partnered with CAM’s Teen Museum Studies students, who organized an installation of his work in the Education Gallery as part of the Museum’s behind-the-scenes career program for youth.
In conjunction with the exhibition, CAM published a major monograph on Walker’s work with contributions by Hilton Als, staff writer, The New Yorker; Christophe Cherix, the Robert Lehman Foundation Chief Curator of Drawings and Prints, Museum of Modern Art, New York; Paula Cooper of the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York; Suzanne Hudson, Associate Professor of Art History and Fine Arts, University of Southern California; Lisa Melandri, Executive Director, CAM; Anne Pontegnie, Chief Curator of the Cranford Collection and Co-Director, Le Consortium; and Jeffrey Uslip, Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs / Chief Curator, CAM.
Kelley Walker (b. 1969, Columbus, Georgia) lives and works in New York City. He has exhibited widely at institutions including the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; Le Magasin – Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Grenoble; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum for Modern Art, Oslo; Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna; National Museum of China, Beijing; New Museum, New York; The Power Plant, Toronto; Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Wiels – Centre d’Art Contemporain, Brussels. Walker’s work is in such prestigious public and private collections as Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; de la Cruz Collection, Miami; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Rubell Collection, Miami; Saatchi Gallery, London; Sammlung Goetz, Munich; Tate Britain, London; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Zabludowicz Collection, London.
Kelley Walker: Direct Drive is organized for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis by Jeffrey Uslip, Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs / Chief Curator.