Night Light Lounge removed a painting this Saturday depicting Adolf Hitler in full Nazi regalia, wearing a "Make America Great Again" baseball cap.
The painting, titled "Hat Sales Are Up Again," by artist Matthew Abelman (who paints under the name "Slim Pickins"), was hung at the Clinton Street bar on Saturday at 1:30 pm for an art opening.
By 4:30 pm, Abelman tells WW, he got a text saying "Hey sorry, Hitler has to come down." The painting was first briefly removed, then allowed to stay up through that evening's art opening. It has since been taken down again.
Night Light co-owner Christopher Gutierrez tells WW the painting wasn't removed for its politics. "I mean, it's Trump," he says.
Instead, customers found the painting disturbing because it was an image of Hitler.
"We got complaints about its shocking visuals," Gutierrez says. "The image of Hitler is strong for some people. It's a lot to ask people to enter a space that's not safe for them."
On its Facebook page Sunday, Night Light put up a notice about the painting's removal:
"Night Light Lounge fully supports freedom of speech and expression in all forms… But we are also very clear that we are a neighborhood bar & restaurant, not an art gallery. And as such we want to make sure that we do not make our customers feel undue discomfort through the imagery we display. We have shied away from images of graphic sexuality and violence on occasion in the past, and this month we are adding Hitler to the list."
The removal of the painting ignited a debate on social media, including accusations of censorship by the bar. " Art should never be censored!" wrote one. "It is meant to stir emotions and this artist accomplished that…let it hang."
Eric Mims, owner of Foster-Powell bar the Slingshot Lounge, offered to put the Trump-Hitler painting up at his bar instead. Other commenters questioned the use of Hitler as a "boogeyman," and the originality or aptness of the comparison.
This is far from the first time anyone has drawn parallels between Hitler and the purportedly tiny-handsed presidential candidate. The comparison has been made often enough that in May, his wife Melania felt the need to declare publicly that Trump was not, in fact, Hitler.
Abelman says that many interpreted the painting as being dismissive of atrocities committed by Hitler.
"People are saying, oh it should be slashed, it was disrespectful to the Jewish plight," he says. "Which is interesting because I'm Jewish."
Abelman says his intention wasn't to make light of the Holocaust.
"That parallel between the 1930s and the motivation behind the Trump campaign… you've got Neo-Nazis backing this guy, David Duke is coming back into the picture," he says.
"Why beat around the bush? We all know the logical conclusion to some of these ideologies, and that's fascism. There's always some type of headwear fascists have to have, some uniform. That hat is one, just like the shirts the Hitler youth wore. This time it's casual. It's easychair fascism."
In response to criticism after taking down Abelman's painting, Night Light manager Robert Khasho wrote on Facebook that "a half dozen people complained to me personally because of the lack of context. On the weekend we have kids in the place. People who work there have kids. Until a written statement is accompanied with the piece validating it's statement I have chosen to keep it down."
"The strongest opinions have been people declaring censorship," Gutierrez says, "and I understand. It was shown and taken down. We're not trying to hide the message, we're just trying to protect the safe space of our establishment."
Abelman says there are no hard feelings about the removal of his painting.
"It's not an art gallery. It's not a philosophical salon of the 1890s," Abelman says. "At the same time, there's that tendency toward censorship that's pervasive in our society even if it's just a bar where you go to have a burger. I get it, some people just want a mochaccino martini. But where are you going to access those more controversial ideals?"
He says he will have another art show this October at the Union Knott gallery on MLK Blvd. He's not sure whether he'll show the Hitler painting there.
"I'll have to talk with the gallery owners," he says. "It caused quite a stir."