Pelosi loses bid to rehang controversial cop painting in Capitol complex

Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried unsuccessfully on Friday to appeal a decision by the Architect of the Capitol to remove a controversial painting that depicted police officers as animals.

The Architect last month decided to take down the student-made artwork following outcry from law enforcement organizations and House Republicans offended by the depiction of the police officers as pigs confronting black protesters.

The painting had been displayed in an underground tunnel connecting the Capitol and two House office buildings since June until conservative news outlets took notice of it in December. It came from the district of Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) and was hung in the tunnel as part of an annual student art competition between House offices.

{mosads}Shortly after it was removed in mid-January, Pelosi called for a meeting of the House Office Building Commission to appeal the decision. But her appeal fell short on Friday, given that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) outnumber her on the panel.

The Architect of the Capitol concluded the painting violated the rules of the student art competition and House Office Building Commission prohibiting “subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”

Pelosi explained the final outcome in a Friday letter to Clay, whose constituent, David Pulphus, created the painting.

She said her case before the commission included the fact that no artwork has been removed since the competition began in 1982. She also called the actions of GOP lawmakers who took down the painting on three separate occasions “embarrassing.”

“In any event, the after-the-fact enforcement of ‘suitability guidelines’ against a painting that had already been selected for the competition and had been hanging without incident for months is highly suspect,” Pelosi wrote to Clay.

“Thank you for your leadership in protecting the expression of artists. Please convey to your constituent David Pulphus my deepest regrets of the circumstances that led to his painting to be removed. The removal dishonors our traditions and violates the First Amendment,” she continued. 

Clay’s district includes Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed teenager in 2014 and inspired nationwide protests over police treatment of black Americans. 

Clay announced after the painting was removed that he would hang it in his Capitol Hill office instead.

Tags Paul Ryan

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