SACRAMENTO – Dozens of works by California lawyers are on display inside the cafeteria at the Department of Justice in Sacramento. But one painting in particular has caused such outrage that hundreds of people have signed an online petition to have it removed.
The painting is called "T'anks to Mr. Bush," and it shows a star-spangled United States being flushed down the toilet. The artist, a Berkeley lawyer, says it depicts his view of where President Bush (search) is leading the country.
The nonprofit arts council put together the annual exhibit, and the attorney general — whose office is in the building — says it would be un-American to remove this, or any piece, just because it's controversial.
"For those that it offends, they shouldn't look at it. For those that want to talk about public-policy matters and look at the art, they're free to do so. But it's their free choice," said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer (search).
"They have a right to be upset with that piece, it's their right. They have a right to say that they don't like it, it's their right not to look at it," said Ellen Taylor of the California Lawyers for the Arts.
But critics say this isn't about censorship, it's about whether partisan political art belongs in the state government facility.
"I find it distasteful, and I find it offensive," said Sacramento resident Peggy Bengs, who visited the exhibit. "I don't like the political implications personally because I believe it is a state building that is financed by the taxpayers."
Click on the video box to the right for a report by FOX News' Claudia Cowan.
But another resident, Brian Lavender, said: "I think it's representative of what the Bush administration is doing right now. I think it hits close to home."
The exhibit itself is privately funded and Lockyer maintains he had nothing to do with selecting the pieces on display. But critics suggest the high-ranking Democrat would never have allowed art depicting a negative image of women, for instance, or desecration of the gay pride flag.
"Look, California's top cop should really be focusing on the crime in California, protecting the citizens of California, and probably spend a little less time promoting controversial, in-your-face, political artwork, which is so offensive to so many people," said Karen Hanretty, spokeswoman for the California State Republican Party.
No one wants to deny artists their right to free expression, but long after the art show ends next month, the debate will continue over whether a government building is the best place to display extreme political art (search).