BY ALEX GANGITANO AND REMA RAHMAN
Works from the Capitol’s annual high school art competition hanging between the Capitol and Cannon House Office Building hasn’t created much controversy — until an image depicting police-community relations was submitted.
“I’ve been contacted by some law enforcement officers … that have described the painting [as] a little bit insulting and offensive to law enforcement and I agree with that,” Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert said Thursday.
Reichert spent 33 years in law enforcement before his election to Congress in 2004.
He described a conversation he had on Tuesday with Missouri Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay, who sponsored the painting.
“[It] was, ‘Look, I hope that you could talk to the artist and maybe if there’s any possibility at all if the artist has another piece of artwork that he’d like to hang that would show that Ferguson has made some progress,’” Reichert said.
The painting at the center of the controversy, “Untitled #1,” is by Missouri resident David Pulphus, who is now studying art in college, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“The U.S. Capitol is a symbol of freedom, not censorship. The young artist chose his own subject and the painting will not be removed,” Clay said on Thursday.
Andy Maybo, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police District of Columbia Lodge #1, called the artwork “offensive and disgusting.”
“This painting does nothing but attack law enforcement to its core,” Maybo told The Daily Caller last month. “The fact that a member of Congress would advocate and praise such a painting is reprehensible. We, in law enforcement, regardless of the police department we work for, are held to higher standards that certain members of Congress now have made a mockery of.”
On Thursday, Speaker Paul D. Ryan was asked by a reporter about a police group sending a letter to him regarding the painting. Ryan said he hasn’t seen the letter.
Reichert said Pulphus’ work “could be a perfect piece of art for them to hang in the city hall of Ferguson for the citizens there to ponder over and try to figure out how did this young man end up with this distorted view of police officers and his impression of what law enforcement looks like rather than having it hang in the national Capitol.”
Ferguson drew worldwide attention for its tense police-community relations after an 18-year-old black man Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer in August 2014, leading to protests and rioting.
For the Capitol art competition, students first submit the artwork to their representative’s office. A panel of local artists from the district selects the winning entries, which are then displayed for a year in the Capitol.
“Members of Congress support student art competitions in our districts but we do not select the young artists and we do not judge the artwork,” Clay said. “I had no role in selecting the winner of this student art competition and I would never attempt to approve or disapprove artistic expression.”
“Untitled #1” has been hanging in the Cannon tunnel for months and will remain until the summer.
“I don’t think that people really pause and pay attention to the artwork there,” Reichert said. “It just takes one person then to notice something that’s a little bit offensive to them, point it out and then others recognize it. The snowball effect starts to get going.”
Reichert sent a letter to President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday urging them to light the White House and Trump’s buildings blue on Jan. 9 for National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.
The competition began in 1982. According to the House of Representatives, there isn’t much criteria for entry.
The work has to be two-dimensional and no larger than 28 inches wide by 28 inches tall by 4 inches thick, not weigh more than 15 pounds, be original in concept, design and execution and lastly, not violate any U.S. copyright laws.