Art in Embassies, started nearly 60 years ago, remains a popular U.S. program today.
Through it, works by well-known American artists have been permanently installed in U.S. Embassies, and art exhibitions have toured the world. American artists have collaborated with local artists in many other countries to create new works that are displayed in U.S. embassies and consulates.
Significant support comes from a nonprofit organization founded in 1986 specifically to support Art in Embassies, the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE).
“What we wanted to do is create a program where things would come to embassies and they would stay there,” said scholar, artist and foundation Chairman Robert Storr at a recent reception marking the donation of a work by American pop art master Roy Lichtenstein.
A replica of Lichtenstein’s Greene Street Mural (1983), donated by his widow, Dorothy, soon will have a permanent home in Mexico City. The original mural was intentionally destroyed after the close of its exhibition at the Castelli Gallery in New York in 1983. The replica was recreated from photographs and the artist’s sketches. The mural depicts mundane aspects of American life in Lichtenstein’s colorful, comic book–inspired style. “You get lost in the mural very easily. If you look left, if you look right, it keeps going,” Storr said.
Also adorning embassies are original works, prints and photographs by artists ranging from photographers Ansel Adams and Cindy Sherman to painters and printmakers Josef Albers, Elizabeth Catlett, Jasper Johns and Frank Stella, to architects and sculptors Maya Lin and Louise Bourgeois. African-American quilters from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, also are represented.
The idea of Art in Embassies, Storr added, is to feature works of art “that in some way, particular to that artist, are emblematic of what America is like.”
Permanent works by more than 200 artists have been donated by his foundation to the Art in Embassies program in more than 140 countries.
What’s more, some 100 artists have traveled in the recent decade to collaborate with artists in exchange programs, reaching many thousands in participating countries. The public-private program engages not just artists, but museums, galleries, universities and private collectors.
Events have been hosted at venues in 189 countries. About 60 exhibitions per year are shipped by professional curators, and since 2000 nearly that many permanent collections have been installed at U.S. diplomatic facilities.
The program assists with restoration of historic buildings in host countries. Sometimes, as in the case of the Petschek Palace in Prague, contents such as furniture, porcelain and crystal were evaluated. The Petschek renovation began a partnership with Sotheby’s art auction house. Sotheby’s continues to do pro bono appraisals of State Department properties abroad.
Other restorations include the renovation of the Embassy Residence in Beijing and of Winfield House, the official residence of the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James’s in London.
And individual works of art are saved. A rare 16th-century Flemish tapestry was restored and is preserved at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. In the Ambassador’s Residence in Brussels, an 18th-century Chinese Coromandel lacquered screen was similarly conserved.
“You don’t have to speak English. You don’t have to speak Spanish. You don’t have to speak anything. You have to speak visual literacy,” Storr said.