Abe Lincoln is not dangerous, and gilded naked nymphs do not undermine the law. But a large steel statue by Washington's Ed Love has been ruled a threat to justice here by the concerned judges of Superior Court.
Love's work shows a lynched fighter, his arms bound behind his back, hanging from a scaffold. "It is sort of a Nathan Hale figure," said the sculptor. The work was to have been temporarily installed at 4th and D streets NW, on a lawn beside the courthouse, until the judges of the court pondered and said no.
Two other statues stand nearby -- one by Lot Flannery is a life-sized marble Lincoln, the other by Carl Paul Jennewein is a bronze nymph with a deer. But Love's work, unlike theirs, has been found to be insufficiently innocuous.
Love teaches at Howard University's College of Fine Arts. He is one of the few local artists invited to exhibit a major work outside during the Eleventh International Sculpture Conference, which opens here June 4.
Because justice is the theme of his piece, Love asked for the landscaped site beside Superior Court. "I thought there would be no better place to show him than at an institution dedicated to justice," he said.
Effi Barry, the wife of the mayor, an admirer of the artist and a promoter of the confernece, wrote to Chief Judge Carl H. Moultrie transmitting Love's request. The site, she wrote, is an "appropriate location . . . which will clearly enhance and complete both the esthetic and philosophical composition of" Love's work.
Her request, supported by the conference organizers and the D.C. Commission on the Arts, was submitted to the Joint Committee on Judicial Administration, whose members include Judges Moultrie, Theordore R. Newman, Catherine B. Kelly, Fred L. McIntyre and William S. Thompson.They were shown a photograph of Love's work.
"Having seen the picture of the sculpture . . . and while recognizing the attractiveness of Mr. Love's work, we must reply in the negative," they responded in a letter signed by Larry P. Polansky, executive officer of the District's courts.
"The Court must tread a path of unchallenged neutrality when dealing with matters of the criminal law.
"The possibility of a challenge by counsel of the psychological effect that the sculpture might have upon jurors makes the showing of the proposed sculpture . . . a very difficult if not impossible matter for the Court."
Of the older statues that decorate the Supreme Court Building, some have swords in hand; others wear no clothes. The statue of Nathan Hale that stands beside the Justice Department is bound hand and foot as is "Jes'us Number Three, Maximum Security Series," the statue made by Love.
"I was told," said Love, "that I could pick a site beside a seat of justice. I don't want to place the piece just anywhere in the park. I'm not trying to be obstructionist. If another appropriate site is found, I'll take it. Of course the piece is provocative. It is supposed to make people think."
"I want to see Ed Love's work displayed," said Mildred Bautista, the mayor's adviser on cultural affairs and the executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts. "I haven't given up. I do not yet know what next step I will take -- but I am going to take one."
"I understand the conservative attitude of the judges of the court," said Effi Barry. "I also understand that if you delve a little more deeply you will see that Ed's sculpture recognizes both the history of black Americans and the creativity of this city's Afro-American artists. I don't have the power to tell the judges what to do. But I think it should be shown."