Flag-in-Toilet Art Yanked from Exhibit, Cal. AG Puts It in His Own Office
August 23, 2005
On August 20, I got an e-mail from Stephen Pearcy, the artist whose controversial painting of an American flag going down the toilet caused such a stir in California. (See “Flag in Toilet Artist Gets Threat.”)
Pearcy’s painting was one of more than thirty that were hanging in the cafeteria of the Department of Justice building in Sacramento. The exhibit runs through August 30, but Pearcy’s involvement in it ended prematurely.
“I came to Sacramento yesterday (Friday) and had a message from a friend on my answering machine,” Pearcy wrote. “He said that he happened to go by . . . and noticed that my painting was gone. I drove over there, and it was in fact gone. I asked a security cop about it, and he said that it was removed a couple of days ago.”
The Attorney General’s office took it down “out of concern for the events going on in the Middle East right now,” Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, told the Sacramento Bee on August 21.
When I spoke with him, Barankin told me that he didn’t consider this to be caving in to pressure from rightwing and Republican groups because the painting is now hanging in the Attorney General’s personal office.
“We were not going to take it down,” he says. “The campaign had it as its objective the removal of the piece from the building altogether. It’s been moved to a location where there are other pieces of art on display in our building.”
Barankin repeated to me his concern about “current sensitivities in the Middle East” by way of explaining why his office moved the painting.
He also said two additional pieces were moved: “one about Palestine and genocide, and another one that had a caricature of George Bush’s head sticking out of a tank that was in the shape of a church.”
Those two aren’t in the Attorney General’s office, but they are on the top floor of the building, he says.
For his part, Pearcy would prefer that his painting remained in the art exhibit for all to see.
And he doesn’t buy Barankin’s rationale. “Thus far, I have been unable to establish a direct connection between the content of my painting and Middle East events,” he says.
But he’s flattered, in a way, that it hangs where it does. Barankin even took him up to see it.
Says Pearcy: “It was moved into the AG’s own personal office, where it ironically sat directly across from another painting that said, Censorship is Un-American.’ I must admit that might be the most honorable way that I can imagine having my art censored from public view.”