After more than three years, the most talked-about coverup at the Justice Department has come to an end.
Two soaring blue drapes that hung in the department's Great Hall were unceremoniously removed yesterday, once again revealing a pair of risque Art Deco-era sculptures that flank the room's stage.
Justice spokesman Kevin Madden said that the decision to remove the drapes was made by Paul Corts, assistant attorney general for administration, and that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales "agreed with the recommendation." He declined to elaborate on the decision.
The 12-foot cast aluminum semi-nude sculptures -- which include an exposed female breast -- had been hidden from view since early 2002, when the drapes were installed at a cost of $8,000.
Under the previous attorney general, John D. Ashcroft, Justice officials long insisted that the curtains were put up to improve the room's use as a television backdrop and that Ashcroft had nothing to do with it.
But because internal e-mails referred to "hiding the statues" -- and because the room was rarely used for media events in recent years -- the episode was quickly seized upon by pundits and satirists as a symbol of Ashcroft's allegedly puritanical and censorious bearing.
In an appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" in April 2002, Ashcroft joked about the decision. "I didn't really know much about this," he said. "Someone ordered some draperies for the statues. . . . It turns out it really wasn't a covering for the statues as it really was a construction curtain. They're being remodeled."
One statue, "Spirit of Justice," depicts a woman wearing a toga-type dress with one breast revealed and arms raised. The male statue, "Majesty of Law," is bare-chested with a garment draped around the waist.
"Spirit of Justice" probably had her most famous moment in news photographs from 1986, when she was seen behind then-attorney general Edwin Meese III as he held a report on pornography.
The sculptures were created by Prix de Rome winner C. Paul Jennewein, and cost U.S. taxpayers a total of $7,275 when they were commissioned in 1933. The statues have stood in the Great Hall since the Justice Department headquarters building opened in 1936.