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Controversial student painting will come down from Capitol walls, lawmaker says

An acrylic painting (right) by David Pulphus that is reported to depict a chaotic scene from Ferguson, Mo., with police officers that appear to be horned animals, is on display on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, Jan. 5. (Michael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency)

A controversial student painting portraying police and protesters as animals will be removed from the U.S. Capitol walls next week, a lawmaker who pushed for its removal said Friday.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) said in a statement that he had been informed by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s office that Capitol officials had deemed the painting in violation of House rules and that it would be removed Tuesday, a day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Reichert, a former county sheriff, asked Ryan earlier this week to have the painting removed, citing rules against “depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature” on the Capitol premises.

House battle over controversial student painting spirals out of control

The painting was hung in June in a tunnel between the Capitol and House office buildings alongside more than 400 other works that had won a national student art contest. The artist, Missouri teen David Pulphus, was inspired by the 2014 civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., near his home. The art depicted a horned beast similar to a wild boar in a police uniform in the foreground tangling with a protester rendered as a wolf. In the background, protesters hold signs including one that says, “Racism kills.”

Law enforcement groups and conservative media outlets said Pulphus depicted cops as pigs and said his painting was disrespectful to police. On three occasions since last Friday, House Republican lawmakers personally removed the painting and delivered it to the office of Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. (D-Mo.), in whose district Pulphus lives.

Clay, who did not have a role in choosing the painting to hang in the Capitol, defended Pulphus’s right to free expression when he gathered reporters to rehang the painting Tuesday, and he said the lawmakers who took the painting down ought to be subject to theft charges.

Reichert, who did not take matters into his own hands, cited the rules of the yearly Congressional Art Competition in asking the Architect of the Capitol to remove the painting. They stipulate that “exhibits depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature are not allowed.”

Clay said Tuesday that Pulphus’s painting followed those rules: “The African American community has had a painful, tortured history with law enforcement in this country,” he said. “That’s not contemporary, that’s historic.”

A spokesman said Clay was not available to comment Friday. A spokeswoman for Ryan did not immediately return a request for comment, nor did a spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol. Pulphus is not commenting, Clay’s office said.

Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a radio interview Thursday that the painting was “disgusting” and “not befitting the Capitol.”

“It’s not as if you have a constitutional right to hang whatever painting you want in the House hallway,” he said.

Reichert struck a similar note in a statement Friday: “The Congressional Art Competition is an opportunity to celebrate the creativity of students in every corner of our country — and visitors from around the world see their talents on display when they walk through the halls of our Capitol. However, with any competition there are rules, and these rules exist for a reason. This painting hung in clear defiance to those rules and was a slap in the face to the countless men and women who put their lives on the line everyday on behalf of our safety and freedom.”