NY hotel assumes Black St. Louis artist is homeless intruder, complaint says – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Kahlil Robert Irving
“Blue scale split — JAR/MASS & MEMES” by Kahlil Robert Irving
A respected St. Louis artist whose work was on display at New York’s renowned Museum of Modern Art has filed a complaint against the hotel he was staying at there, saying a manager racially stereotyped him as a homeless intruder and tried to remove him from the room.
Kahlil Robert Irving says he was traumatized when the manager harangued him to get out of the bed in which he was sleeping, according to a complaint filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights.
“The hotel manager was screaming at me that I needed to exit the hotel immediately, that the police had been or were being called, that I ‘was not supposed to be here,’ that ‘you have to get out’ and accusing me of being a homeless person who had broken into the room. He was unwilling to listen to my repeated indication that I was a registered guest,” according to Irving’s complaint.
Irving, who was born in San Diego, graduated from Metro Academic and Classical High School and later earned his master of fine arts degree in 2017 from Washington University. He works in south St. Louis, creating mixed-media sculpture and using digital images in collages. In 2019, he was one of three artists to win the Great Rivers Biennial award, which included an exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in the fall of 2020.
The New York incident was Jan. 22, two days after Irving checked into the High Line Hotel in Manhattan’s tony Chelsea neighborhood. He had used his key card to enter the hotel, access the elevator and open the hotel room, he said. But the door to the room did not close automatically, Irving said.
Early that morning, before yelling at him to get out, the hotel manager noticed the room’s door was ajar and asked him if things were all right. Irving, who is Black, confirmed he was OK and went back to sleep. The manager closed the door, but came back about 8 a.m. with a second man, and they entered the room with their own key and without knocking. Both men are white, the complaint says. 
“It was like a nightmare,” Irving, 30, said in an interview Wednesday. “They could have given someone a (expletive) heart attack.” He said he had told the hotel staff the day before about difficulty with the door.
The complaint cites “racial animus” and “racial stereotyping” as the reason for the hotel staff’s actions.
Management from the hotel has refused to comment in several news reports. A hotel operations manager said Wednesday night he was unaware of the complaint.
The room at the High Line Hotel, 180 10th Avenue, was booked for Irving by gallery Luhring Augustine. He had checked in on Jan. 20. Rooms this month were listed from $309 to $620 a night. 
A lawyer for Irving released information to the press after several months of messages to MCR Hotels, the group that owns the High Line. The attorney, Laurence J. Eisenstein, also released an email to MCR from April that indicated a desire for a financial settlement for Irving:
“There is no question that Mr. Irving should be entitled to substantial monetary compensation as a result of this incident, in an amount sufficient to serve as a deterrent and as a motivation to properly train hotel staff. In addition, we are asking for a full accounting of disciplinary action and training that the hotel is implementing as a result of this incident.”
This month, Eisenstein said, the human rights complaint was filed after “the hotel casually dismissed the situation as only a ‘serious misunderstanding.’”
“Mixed Messages (Streets & Screens) AOL + Lottery” (2020) by Kahlil Robert Irving, who was a Great Rivers Biennial winner for 2020.
Irving’s career has grown steadily. Along with his solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art this year (it closed in May), Irving’s work was part of the New Museum Triennial in New York. One of Irving’s sculptures is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. 
Regarding the MOMA exhibition, a New York Times critic said of Irving: “With the exception of Simone Leigh, there isn’t another artist making more relevant and compelling clay-based work at the moment.”
Irving is preparing for a solo exhibition in February at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and this fall he will be exhibiting in a commercial gallery in Los Angeles.
When COVID delayed his opening at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis, he said in an interview that the COVID outbreak was difficult for him. “My work is anchored in current events and thinking about history and contemporary lives all at the same time. It’s kind of hard to think about a future when people are faced with life and death.”
He also said he wasn’t thinking so much about his art but about people taking care of neighbors and staying healthy. 
Another incident involving a Black St. Louis artist and a New York hotel happened in 2020. On the day after Christmas, a woman falsely accused jazz artist Keyon Harrold’s son of stealing her cellphone at a New York City hotel. Video of the altercation, filmed by Harrold, went viral, and the family appeared on national news shows to address the issue.
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Jane Henderson is the book editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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Kahlil Robert Irving
“Mixed Messages (Streets & Screens) AOL + Lottery” (2020) by Kahlil Robert Irving, who was a Great Rivers Biennial winner for 2020.
“Blue scale split — JAR/MASS & MEMES” by Kahlil Robert Irving
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