A painting by a constituent of a Democratic congressman from Missouri that depicts police officers as animals has been taken down from the hallways of the U.S. Capitol again, possibly for the last time.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that House lawmakers had returned to the Capitol to find the painting gone from its erstwhile spot alongside other winners of the Congressional Art Competition, one from each congressional district.
Republicans and police groups across the country viewed the painting’s depiction of police officers as pigs (the artist says the officers were depicted with boar heads) as offensive and argued it did not meet the competition’s rules prohibiting “subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”
Rep. Dave Reichert’s office (R-WA) on Friday said that Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office had informed him the architect of the Capitol had determined the painting violated those rules. The architect of the Capitol confirmed his decision to remove the painting in a letter to Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO), whose constituent David Pulphus painted “Untitled #1,” citing the competition’s rules.
The removal, yet again, of the painting marks another installment in what has been a tense and symbolic fight. Clay has said his attempts to restore the painting to its place in the Capitol were “about defending the Constitution” and freedom of expression.
“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,” Clay wrote in a statement emailed to TPM Tuesday. Clay noted that the painting was currently hanging “in a place of honor” in his Capitol Hill office.
“I plan to seek reversal of the Architect’s determination in short order,” he continued. “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.”
In an op-ed published in the Post-Dispatch on Friday, Pulphus and freelance writer Etefia Umana wrote that some Republicans’ decisions to remove the painting “challenge democracy’s essence and highlight the privilege that white people in positions of power wield: immunity.”
“It is unimaginable that either of us could enter the Capitol building and remove the statue of slavery advocate John C. Calhoun without being accosted and likely arrested,” the op-ed continued. “The representatives are demonstrating that rules and laws only apply to certain citizens — not including them. The misplaced anger of these ‘authorities’ fails to address critical issues pertinent to conditions in African-American communities, police-community relations, and constitutional rights.”
This article has been updated.