Opinion

Artist Sues Smithsonian After It Declined to Display His 16-Foot Painting of Trump

Reportedly, the National Portrait Gallery’s director told Julian Raven the painting was “too political,” “too big,” and “no good.”

Many an artist has demonstrated unfettered ambition when it comes to gaining recognition for their work, but a Trump-loving wingnut named Julian Raven has taken the fight for museum space to a new level: he’s suing the Smithsonian in an effort to force them to display his gigantic portrait of our national Embarrassment-in-Chief. Raven views the refusal of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery to display the 16’ x 8’ piece of propaganda (based on concerns about its size, content, and general shittiness) as a violation of First Amendment rights and his Fifth Amendment right to due process — proving, once again, that just because someone claims to love the Constitution doesn’t mean they understand it.

As reported by Will Sommer at the Daily Beast, Judge Trevor McFadden of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed Raven’s initial lawsuit on the grounds that the museum enjoys “what amounts to complete discretion in choosing portraits.” Rather than having his own free speech rights violated, the judge ruled, Raven was attempting to compel speech from the museum. Whoops!

“The First Amendment simply does not apply to government art selections, no matter how arbitrary,” Judge McFadden wrote in the memorandum dismissing Raven’s charge.

Raven was inspired to create the giant image in 2015 when he saw Trump campaigning on television — roughly the left third of the 300-pound painting is devoted to a giant neck-up rendering of the then-presidential candidate, with the rest depicting a bald eagle flying through space with a giant American flag in its talons and our pitiable blue planet in the background, with no idea what it had in store. Raven, driven by this searing vision to complete the painting in three weeks, hoped to display the work at the Smithsonian in coincidence with the 2017 inauguration, but found himself roundly rejected by the gallery’s director, Kim Sajet, who told him that it was “too political” and “too big” and, generally, just not very good.

“The last thing she said to me was ‘it’s no good,’” Raven is quoted as saying. Welcome to the art world, buddy.

Raven has already lost his case in DC’s US District Court and is now working on an appeal. He’s determined to take his petition to the Supreme Court if that’s what it takes to have his snowflake artist feelings validated.

Raven considers himself as a “starving artist,” and says the giant pro-Trump propaganda, which was wildly well-received at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), damaged his livelihood by pigeonholing him as a political artist. In 2018, Raven said, he sold just one painting.

“It’s been a very uncertain and oftentimes very discouraging journey that did affect negatively my art career,” Raven said to the Daily Beast. “My art sales just took a nosedive.” Live by the sword, die by the sword, buddy. Maybe you should take up your problems with the free market with your friends at CPAC.

Meanwhile, I salute the National Portrait Gallery, who declined to comment to the Daily Beast due to the lawsuit, for sticking to their guns (both metaphorically, and the guns they are allowed to have because of the Second Amendment). By declining to display this work, they have protected the civil liberties of my eyes, as well as clamping down on the scourge of “fake news” — in this case, Raven’s rendering of the President’s hairline as healthy and naturalistic. Meanwhile, I think conservatives would agree that Raven’s outspoken desire to have his shitty painting lauded is the kind of basic millennial cry for a participation trophy that is tearing this country apart. That guy should really learn to pull himself up by his bootstraps.

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