Heard on the Hill

Clay Brings Controversial Constituent Painting to House Floor

Missouri Democrat said Speaker Ryan should be “ashamed” of himself

Rep. William Lacy Clay next to his constituent’s painting on the House floor on April 26. (CSPAN screenshot)

A controversial painting from the Congressional Art Competition for high school students made an appearance on the House floor Wednesday.

Missouri Democrat William Lacy Clay brought his constituent’s artwork “Untitled #1” to the floor to defend the piece that depicted police-community relations in Ferguson, Missouri.

The painting stood next to Clay as he delivered a speech. It has been in his office since it was taken down from display in the tunnel.

The painting prompted controversy when some Republican members removed it from it’s place on the wall in the art show in the Capitol tunnel.

[Controversy Lingers Over Capitol Art Competition]

Clay defended the artist, David Pulphus.

“He [has] been deprived of the honor of listing his 1st place victory in the congressional art competition on his résumé,” Clay said. “He has even been attacked by the Speaker of the House who called his award-winning work … ‘disgusting.’”

He added, “the Speaker and the Architect of the Capitol should be ashamed of themselves.”

After a series of back-and-forths, which Clay called “acts of petty theft by renegade Members of Congress” in his floor speech, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan asked the Architect of the Capitol to remove the painting and a federal court ruled the move legal.

Clay has been opposing the rule ever since.

[Clay to Appeal Judge’s Rejection of Student PaintingHOH reported on Monday that Clay doesn’t have a role in the selection process once his office receives the art submissions from constituents. An independent panel of judges in his district — teachers, art dealers and gallery owners — selects the winner and the congressman sees it the day it is announced.

“Let me be clear, I do not approve or disapprove of this painting. I did not approve or disapprove the concept of the artwork. I did not judge the art competition,” he said in his speech. 

Clay yielded the floor to his colleagues to participate in defending the painting, including Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr., and North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams.

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