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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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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....

21 replies on “Artist Sues Smithsonian After It Declined to Display His 16-Foot Painting of Trump”

  1. A fine article, but the ending. I get that you’re kind of riffing on the ridiculousness of the suit, but kind of unnecessary nasty sudden dig on millennials (a popular fish in a bucket to shoot)

  2. I agree with the two people who wrote in before me. I wish Ms. Sharp had confined her comments to the nature of the work. It is unclear on which grounds she decided to extend her disdain: millennials? participation culture? shitty paintings? That the painting is by any measure painfully poor should have sufficed.

  3. he should pull up on his boot straps, both at the same time. The painting belongs on the side of a truck, with an air brush.

  4. I honestly think this monstrosity would be the perfect Trump portrait in the gallery. It really captures what’s so scary about this period- especially when you hang it next to Kehinde Wiley

  5. A gigantic thank you to the Smithsonian for refusing this atrocity. We certainly don’t need one more picture of the orange turd. He is a disgrace to humanity and an Albatross around the neck of the United States. May he fade away soon, very soon.

  6. I hope he wins that lawsuit and the Smithsonian is forced to display it. I just want to watch people’s face melt off screaming I hate Trump.

  7. This picture is so awful that I thought it an attempt at irony.

    The current obsession with Mr. Trump (“Trump’s America” – and it isn’t) pro and contra in politics and in the arts is unhealthy. The unhappy man was elected president in a free and open election in which only about 50% of the electorate bothered to participate. The remaining 50% won’t be bothered to vote next year either. Democracy is not meant to be a spectator sport.

    There is no irony in the artist – perhaps – appealing to a judge to certify art as government-improved. The loudest, flag-waviest among us do not appear to love much about the Constitution beyond the 2nd Amendment.

    Bias note – I considered both Mr.Trump and Senator Clinton unworthy of the office, and voted for an alternative. Our two dominant political parties do not serve the people, and I will not serve them.

  8. Where to start…? Every artist I know has laughed at the entitlement displayed by this “artist”… it is pretty obvious that he does not even know how the art world works. According to his website, he normally paints Jackson Pollock knockoffs, and has no CV to speak of, just a picture illustrating that, once, a doctor bought one of his paintings. I find it so telling that this man idolizes Trump, the ultimate bully, and then believes that he himself could bully his way into a museum.

  9. The ‘civil liberties of my eyes’, please, how puerile can this get? This certainly is not an even decent middle brow painting but it’s interesting to see how convenient it becomes to rule out art we don’t agree with. I wonder how many left-centric art pieces we see daily. In fact, much of the ‘art’ seen today seems more like political cartoons than anything more.

  10. OK. I worked for the Smithsonian for 12 years. Here’s the deal. The Smithsonian is IN NO WAY obligated to take any donation from anyone. They get 100s of requests from folks who want to donate something they are absolutely sure is valuable, because great aunt Maude kept it in pristine condition for 80 years. Dude should have applied to the Boochever PORTRAIT Competition hosted by the NPG, where he would have been rejected by a jury, because the work is simplistic in its approach and lacks any sort of artistic vigor. The museums accept work that is of major significance and value to their collections whether cultural, artist, scientific, etc. The work needs to round out their collections. As always an official portrait of Trump by a well-known artist of quality will be commissioned and eventually hang in the gallery. This is not the one. Mr. Rave would do better to submit his work after this presidency to the official Trump Library of Incessant Tweeting where his piece will serve as a backdrop for an exhibition space.

  11. Should I now hire lawyers and sue the galleries who’ve rejected my work…and give no reason at all for rejecting it? Why Mr. Rave thinks he’s entitled to have a painting in the Smithsonian (at least he got a reason for his rejection) is beyond me. Besides if he hasn’t sold any paintings how does he afford lawyers? Perhaps one day the Smith will sponsor an exhibit dedicated to the history of political art during the T era. Until then, Mr. Rave, be patient, continue to paint, and rest assured you’re not alone in your rejection. As artists our only choice is to take it in stride, hiring lawyers is fruitless, unnecessary, and expensive. By the way buy your art supplies now before they become wildly expensive due to your hero’s tariffs.

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