The fingerprints of divine providence

If the Smithsonian declines to display your enormous lurid ugly painting, do you have a legal case against it for declining? My guess would be no, because there is no obligation in law to display all paintings that are offered. Just think what art museums and galleries would be like if there were.

An artist called Julian Raven thinks otherwise.

A Trump portraitist whose lawsuit against the Smithsonian Institution and National Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet was thrown out in December is appealing the district court’s decision, arguing that his work deserves to be shown in the hallowed institution.

Yeah see I don’t think that’s something you can argue in a legal sense. I don’t think that’s a legal category.

“It’s remarkable. It is dramatic. And I believe it has the fingerprints of divine providence upon it,” said artist Julian Raven in a homemade video explaining why he was inspired to create a 300-pound, 16-foot-long painting of president Donald Trump.

Well there you go – what if the Smithsonian doesn’t have 16 feet of wall space available? What if the floors aren’t up to a new 300 pounds? Fingerprints of divine providence notwithstanding?

After 600 hours of labor, Raven’s opus, Unafraid and Unashamed, was complete, and it has been making the rounds at Republican rallies for the past few years. Most recently, it appeared at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where it lit up the Twittersphere, served as the literal backdrop for the right-wing meetup.

Raven believes that his work deserves national recognition, and should hang alongside paintings of other presidents in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The artist has been mired in a legal battle with the Smithsonian since 2017, claiming that the government institution is violating his First Amendment rights.

No. I’m not a lawyer, obviously, but I know the First Amendment ≠ national museums are required to display everything that is offered to them. Everybody knows that.

According to court documents, Raven first applied to have his portrait displayed as part of Trump’s inauguration in 2017. When he was rebuffed by the Rockwell Museum (an affiliate of the Smithsonian), he contacted the National Portrait Gallery’s director, Kim Sajet.

In the filings, Raven describes a hostile conversation that ended with rejection on the grounds that his magnum opus painting was too big, too pro-Trump, and not a very good painting.

That’s putting it very politely. It’s a hideous painting.

See for yourself.

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