Art Works Blog

The (Photography) Ambassadors

Last month, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, hosted a panel discussion, in collaboration with the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE), titled Inside Photography: The Role of Art in Diplomacy.

FAPE is the principal non-profit organization that provides permanent works of American art for U.S. embassies worldwide. They do this through site-specific commissions, an original print collection, preservation projects and other arts initiatives. Founded in 1986, by spouses of former U.S. Ambassadors as well as the director of the U.S. Department of State's Office of Art in Embassies, FAPE has contributed to the State Department's mission of cultural diplomacy by teaming up with American artists whose works promote cross-cultural understanding within the international community. All artworks sited by FAPE are contributions gifted by some of the United States’ greatest artists and donors.

FAPE has placed art in more than 140 countries across Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa, including embassies in Kabul, Afghanistan, Vienna, Austria, Beijing, China, and Bogota, Columbia, among many others.

The panel focused on FAPE's newest venture---adding photography as part of its embassy exhibits. The Photography Collection was inaugurated with special editions by artists Tina Barney---who was on-hand for the panel---and William Wegman. Barney and Wegman unveiled their works to Secretary of State John Kerry at a dinner earlier this spring. Each year, the collection will grow to include a new edition by a great American photographer.

Barney was on-hand at the panel to discuss the edition of photographs she recently donated to FAPE while explaining the inspiration she finds when choosing subjects to shoot. Since 1975, Barney has been producing large-scale photographs of family and friends. Her opulent color prints have been exhibited and collected by major institutions around the world. One of her current projects, Small Towns, focuses on communal events that occur daily in towns across America. “The communal act of repeating events over and over, year after year, that develops into traditions, has always been the main attraction in whatever I seem to photograph,” Barney said. Her photograph Fourth of July was donated to the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.

Clifford Ross, also an artist of international renown, examined the photographs acquired by FAPE for display at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York as well as recent projects in China. Ross invented and patented the "R1" camera in 2002 and has made some of the highest resolution, large-scale landscapes in the world. Commenting on the importance of FAPE, he stated, "We [artists] like having our art as part of the [diplomatic] dialogue." His hope is to one day have a program where U.S. photographers can be sent to international locations and have the photographs they shoot be displayed in the corresponding American embassy or consulate.

Sarah Greenough, Senior Curator and Head of the Department of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, moderated the discussion. She was joined by Robert Storr, dean of the Yale School of Art, and consulting curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Storr chairs FAPE's volunteer advisory committee, which selects and commissions all FAPE artists. Once commissioned, artists work with the embassy architects, the State Department, and FAPE to ensure that the art is thoughtfully incorporated within the building and its grounds.

Rounding out the panel was art historian, author, and curator Sarah Lewis. A member of President Obama's Arts Policy Committee, Lewis stressed the importance of the presence of art in American embassies abroad: "We permit a new future to enter the room with aesthetic force."

Check out our story on the Art of Diplomacy to see more art in US embassies around the world.

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