‘Cops as Pigs’ Painting Removed by Architect of Capitol, Rep. Clay to Appeal

The controversial Congressional Art Competition winning student painting depicting police officers as pigs that hung in the U.S. Capitol complex for six months was removed over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend by the Architect of the Capitol for violating rules against controversial contemporary political themes. The painting’s patron, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) said he will appeal the removal. In the meantime Clay said he would hang the painting, by St. Louis student David Pulphus, in his House office.

Untitled #1 by David Pulphus before removal from Capitol tunnel wall.

The painting had been removed by several Republican congressmen last week in protest of its depiction of police officers, only to be re-hung by Clay each time. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) said he would see to it that the painting came down and stayed down. The painting had hung unmentioned for six months on a wall in a tunnel connecting the Cannon House Office Building with the Capitol until an article by the Independent Journal Review about the painting was published late last month.

Clay released a statement Tuesday about the controversy.

“By his unprecedented and unconstitutional action, following criticism of the artwork by Speaker Ryan and several GOP Members, the Architect of the Capitol acted to suppress the free speech rights of my constituent, and they have also sent a chilling message to young Americans that their voices are not respected, their views are not valued, and their freedom of expression is no longer protected in the U.S. Capitol.

The assertion that the painting did not comply with the rules of the Congressional Art Competition is arbitrary and insulting. Like the other 400+ entries, this painting was accepted and approved by the Congressional Art Competition last spring, and it has been peacefully displayed in a public forum for more than six months.

David Pulphus’ remarkable artwork will be relocated and displayed in a place of honor in my Capitol Hill office. But this is now about something much bigger than a student’s painting, it is about defending our fundamental 1st Amendment freedoms which include the right to free expression; even when that creativity is considered objectionable by some, and applauded by others.

I plan to seek reversal of the Architect’s determination in short order. Supreme Court precedent clearly falls on the side of artistic freedom as protected speech. As a Member who reveres the 1st Amendment, I can assure you that I will redouble my efforts to defend it, and ultimately, the Constitution will prevail.”

Last week Clay sent a letter to Ryan defending the painting.

The letter opened with the statement, “In America we don’t arrest paintings.”

Clay appears to have forgotten the 1988 incident in Chicago where gun-wielding Black Aldermen took down a painting of the recently deceased Black Chicago Mayor Harold Washington in women’s lingerie. The painting was later removed from the gallery by Chicago police who “arrested” the painting.

Mirth and Girth by David K. Nelson, Jr.

“Chicago aldermen Allan Streeter and Ernest Jones, flanked by Chicago police officers, “arrest” SAIC student David K. Nelson, Jr.’s painting Mirth & Girth, 1988,” image via SAIC.

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