Artist Julian Raven (that’s him on the right above) wants to force the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery to include his “Unafraid and Unashamed,” which you can see above. On the artist’s website can be found links to his Supreme Court petition and other documents related to his Free Speech suit “to force the gallery to add a portrait of President Trump to its collection of images of people of remarkable character and achievement.” Raven notes that the gallery has displayed artwork from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign since 2009, and in his 39-page filing with SCOTUS, argues that gallery’s refusal to hang his portrait is based on an anti-Trump bias.
Raven’s crusade has been treated as an oddball saga and a joke, as in a profile in the Washingtonian Magazine.
Some conservative writers are taking his cause seriously, however. Here’s Lawrence Jarvik:
Raven’s challenge dramatizes how national cultural institutions established to serve all the American people, such as the Smithsonian, have been hijacked by dangerously partisan factions which seek to exclude, marginalize and erase “Others.”
As his brief demonstrates, the Smithsonian had accepted campaign posters for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, in addition to huge oversized paintings of Bill Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama. It had a special exhibition for the Obama Inauguration, and maintains a sort of shrine to the Obamas to this day.
Raven’s case likewise provides evidence that decision-making at the Smithsonian is arbitrary and unfair. He was never provided a written decision on his application. Instead, he received only a phone call from the director, which from his account sounded conclusory, partisan, and unfair.
As he points out, as an American citizen—Raven is entitled to due process. Yet, to this date, he has no idea as to how his work was evaluated, nor what rubric was applied to his submission…versus that used for pictures of Obamas or Clintons.
Although “Unafraid and Unashamed” may not be the most beautiful portrait ever painted, Raven’s legal brief makes clear that the official criterion for display by the National Portrait Gallery is historical significance. No reasonable person could deny that Donald Trump’s election in 2016 had historical significance.
That’s true. It is also likely, certain, even, that the selection criteria used at the Smithsonian, as in every other art museum, is subjective and thus certain to be biased in one respect or another. Since the question involves pro-Trump art, and it would be hard to find an artist or significant arbiter of the arts in Washington, D.C. or anywhere else who doesn’t loathe President Trump, the issue of bias is not an insignificant one. Continue reading