PORTLAND — About 200 people attended a Portland Museum of Art forum on public art that quickly turned into a renewed debate over the mural that was removed from state Department of Labor offices last month.

The focus of much of the debate was Ray Richardson, a co-host of a talk show on WLOB radio, who said he considered the mural a political piece of art aimed at making Department of Labor employees more sympathetic to workers than to businesses.

Most of the audience was composed of people who opposed the decision by Gov. Paul LePage, R-Maine, to remove the artwork, judging by their questions and the prolonged standing ovation they gave to Judy Taylor, the artist who created the mural.

Richardson said he is generally supportive of public art, but Taylor’s piece – which depicts key moments in Maine’s labor history – is “offensive” because it is politically tinged.

“I think it’s inappropriate in a public building because it’s one-sided,” he said.

Taylor kicked off the noontime forum by recounting how she was commissioned to do the art by the Department of Labor. Officials did not attempt to influence her work, Taylor said, and she worked with a labor historian to select the moments to illustrate.

Taylor said she didn’t feel the piece had a political slant.

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