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Washington House Gives Hercules The Hook

April 17, 1993

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) _ Washington state legislators say two black-and-white abstract murals depicting ″the Twelve Labors of Hercules″ are pornographic and demeaning to women, so they’ve banished Hercules from their chambers.

On a lopsided voice vote Friday, House members ordered the state to pull the huge murals down and find a better spot. One legislator offered his basement.

″The way I see it, art exhibits come and go, and it’s time for this one to go,″ said Rep. Greg Fisher, who sponsored the amendment to the state budget.

The scenes include Hercules slaying a lion and a Hydra, subduing a mad bull, capturing the belt of the Amazon queen, wrestling with a monstrous bandit and capturing the three-headed hound of Hell.

Critics say some of the scenes depict obscene poses, including one they say appears to depict oral sex between Hercules and the Amazon queen.

″We’ve enjoyed them ... for far too long,″ said Rep. Tom Campbell. ″Clearly, we should send them somewhere else for other people to enjoy.″

The vote must clear the Senate and Gov. Mike Lowry. However, the Senate isn’t expected to overrule the House’s taste in art.

The murals by Seattle artist Michael Spafford have been controversial ever since they were installed in 1981 in the visitors’ galleries above the ornate House chambers. They were commissioned for $100,000 in 1979 as part of a multimillion-dollar refurbishing of the Capitol for the state’s 1989 centennial.

They were immediately branded as inappropriate for the stately setting. Within months, they were curtained over. In 1987, a House committee ordered them removed.

Spafford took the state to court, but lost. In late 1989, Joe King, then the House speaker who was running for governor and seeking support from the arts community, overturned the earlier vote and ordered the murals uncovered.

The murals narrowly survived eviction on a number of occasions, usually as part of budget debates.

This time, Herc got the hook.

Supporters said art must be supported, even when it is unpopular or misunderstood.

″Public art is not about what you like,″ said Rep. Cal Anderson.

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