Hotel 21c owner says 'racist' art conflict was about money

Updated: May. 16, 2017 at 12:19 AM EDT
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The artwork in question. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
The artwork in question. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Hotel 21C owner Steve Wilson said the conflict over a controversial piece of art was all about money.

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Monday, the boutique hotel replaced a recreation of a civil War-era postcard depicting a white man riding a black man.

It was part of an exhibit from an artist group called Fallen Fruit in the hotel's Proof restaurant.

"When I saw that art I was deeply offended," said the Rev. Gerome Sutton, who leads the Louisville African-American Think Tank. "We're glad that a resolution has been brought and the art has been taken down."

"Everyone who knows us knows that we are not racist," Wilson said, adding that the conflict with Sutton was never about the art. "He wanted to be paid to not cause a controversy."

Sutton said that's not true. He said he wanted the hotel to send an artist to help children affected by violence with therapy art.

> PREVIOUS STORY: Local group raises concerns about 21c art display

"We didn't say we wanted any funding," Sutton said. "We said we wanted them to be the fiduciaries of the funding and just send the resident artist."

Sadiqa Reynolds, of the Louisville Urban League, worked with the museum and advised them to release a statement.

"The piece taken by itself was offensive," Reynolds said. "There's no denying that. I understand the attempt and what they were actually trying to do and sometimes I think we need more explanation around that."

Added Wilson: "We are presenting all of the works here to open conversation."

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It's a conversation not everyone wants to have, though.

"You have the audacity to suggest to us that we need art to remind us of our history," Sutton said.

Fallen Fruit released a statement saying, "The intent of the installation artwork is not to create violence but to invoke conversation about difficult histories."

The picture was replaced by a Civil War-era mirror, which was what the artists requested. Wilson said he was upset about how everything played out.

"What disappointed me was the idea of a man coming to us acting concerned about an image when it really wasn't his intent in the first place," Wilson said.

Wilson said he's working with Reynolds and other West End groups on art therapy but not with the African American Think Tank.

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