The feds have finally figured out what to do with those controversial murals at the Ariel Rios Federal Building, which houses the Environmental Protection Agency. Employees have long voiced concerns about the paintings by Frank Mechau that have hung in the building for more than 50 years; they depict scenes of the American West.
Dangers of the Mail, on the fifth floor, depicts an Indian massacre in full swing. Dark-skinned attackers on rearing horses have converged on a stagecoach. In the overturned wreckage, men lay with spears through their chests, while others are scalped alive. Two white women cower naked on all fours; one of them resists as a mohawked attacker yanks a fistful of her hair.
In 2005, following years of complaints, the General Services Administration (GSA) decided to cover Dangers of the Mail and another Mechau painting, Pony Express, with screens visitors could walk behind. But the partitions blotted out any light by which viewers might actually see the artwork, so the agency removed the panel in front of Pony Express and installed a $25,000 perforated screen in front of Dangers of the Mail.
The GSA promised to undertake a “consultation process” to come up with a more comprehensive solution. The final decision, explained in a letter last month to the EPA’s assistant administrator, decrees a new screen for Dangers of the Mail—the third in the last two years—-and interpretive signs for all 22 murals in the building.