Capitol Hill Painting
Artist: David Pulphus
Date of Action: January 2017- present
Region: North America
Location: Washington D.C.
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Confronting Bodies: Republican Representatives
Description of Artwork: In the spring of 2016, David Pulphus, a St. Louis Missouri high school student, was chosen as a winner in the annual Congressional Art Competition for an allegorical painting depicting a scene of protest against police violence. This painting was displayed in a public passageway leading to the U.S. Capitol building.
The Incident: Republican representatives took the painting down without permission, but Representative Lacy Clay, a representative from Pulphus' district, restored the painting to its original location each time it was removed. The Architect of the Capitol made the final decision, siding with Republican representatives who argued that the painting broke the art competition's guidelines which prevented works that depict "subjects of contemporary political controversy." Rep. Lacy Clay released a statement saying that the painting's removal has "sent a chilling message to young Americans that their voices are not respected, their views not valued, and their freedom of expression is no longer protected in the U.S. Capitol."
Results of Incident: The National Coalition Against Censorship issued a statement which was co-signed by American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Authors Guild, College Art Association, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Free Speech Coalition, Index on Censorship, International Association of Art Critics, PEN America, Vera List, Center for Art and Politics, and Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts. The statement expressed the organization's dissent for the removal of the painting and the many ways in which the removal chills our right to the freedom of artistic expression. "Removing the work sends a message to young people- and everybody else- that they should not depict the world around them for fear of offending our political representatives." Two of the country's leading legal professionals, Lawrence Tribe and Erwin Chemerinsky have agreed to work pro bono on Lacy Clay's lawsuit against the Architect's decision to remove the painting. Tribe said that "these flagrant and repeated acts of unauthorized government censorship threaten the very fabric of an open society committed to freedom of expression under the First Amendment." In mid April, a federal court ruled against artist David Pulpus and Democratic Missouri Congressman William Lacy Clay. This final judgement is a victory for the Republican representatives who opposed the painting and wished to have it permanently removed.