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Touring the World with “Art in Embassies”

Nkanga

Print by Otobank Nkanga, from the catalog: Virginia Shore, Tabitha Brackens, Sally E. Mansfield, and Victoria See, Abuja, Nigeria: Art Collection of the United States Embassy (Washington, D.C.: Art in Embassies Program, U.S. Department of State, 2017)

While it’s hard for many of us to travel these days, a good second option could be searching Watsonline from home. Watson Library has been cataloging and providing access to contemporary gallery PDFs from countries all over the world for many years now (read more about these efforts here), and we’re excited to announce a new online collection of publications with a global focus that we’ve been actively working on from home.

Art in Embassies (AIE), a program within the U.S. Department of State, publishes multilingual print and digital catalogs to accompany its exhibitions and collections hosted in U.S. Embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic facilities around the world. The foundation of AIE began with an International Council established by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1953 to exhibit American works of art in U.S. embassies abroad. Building on these efforts and recognizing the importance of art in international cultural outreach, an AIE office was created by the John F. Kennedy administration in 1963. Since then, AIE has grown and continues its mission to promote cultural diplomacy through art by way of artist exchanges and programs exhibiting a diverse group of American artists as well as international artists and artists from the host countries. AIE exhibitions display over two thousand artists each year, selecting and commissioning art in a wide range of media, styles and themes with works provided by artists, museums, galleries, dealers, private collections and other institutions.

Garza

A lithograph by Mexican-American artist, Carmen Lomas Garza, from the catalog: Renée H. Drake and Virginia Shore, Art Collection of the Consulate General of the United States: Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (Washington, D.C.: Art in Embassies Program, U.S. Department of State, 2009)

In addition to producing print catalogs of their exhibitions, AIE provides access to PDFs of the digital catalogs on their website, which we’ve been able to catalog and upload to our cloud storage site, providing remote access to anyone, anywhere with an internet connection. The catalogs in the AIE collection come from all over the world: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cyprus, Guatemala, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Nepal, the Republic of Kosovo, just to name a few.

Woolery

Imtiaz Hafiz, Sally E. Mansfield, Marcia V. Mayo, Victoria See, and Amanda D. Brooks, United States Embassy Kingston: Art in Embassies Exhibition (Washington, D.C.: Art in Embassies Program, U.S. Department of State, 2016)

The catalogs cover a diverse range of themes as well, from climate change to democracy and free expression and even scientific exploration. A 2017 exhibition held at the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki was devoted largely to climate change with works reflecting the shifting arctic landscape, like this watercolor featured in the catalog by artist, Zaria Forman, with her work, Greenland #74.

Forman

Sarah Tanguy, Sally E. Mansfield, Victoria See, Tabitha Brackens, and Amanda D. Brooks, United States Embassy Helsinki: Art in Embassies Exhibition (Washington, D.C.: Art in Embassies Program, U.S. Department of State, 2017)

The African-American experience is a recurring subject of AIE exhibitions as well. This was a central focus of the AIE exhibition in Kigali which features works by a number of African-American artists, including this painting by Jacob Lawrence.

Lawrence

Victoria See, Tabitha Brackens, and Amanda D. Brooks, United States Embassy Kigali: Art in Embassies Exhibition (Washington, D.C.: Art in Embassies Program, U.S. Department of State, 2019)

The cultural and physical landscape of the host city or country is often integrated into AIE exhibitions. This Nick Cave installation from the 2017 exhibition in Dakar, Senegal, aims to reflect the local fishing culture in Dakar. The artist collaborated with local Senegalese artists Seyni Mbaye, Loman Pawlitschek, Daouda Ndiaye, Moussa Traore, and Moussa Mbaye to create this piece which references the fishing mesh found in Dakar.

Nick Cave

Ellen Hurst, Dakar, Senegal: Art Collection of the United States Embassy (Washington, D.C.: Art in Embassies Program, U.S. Department of State, 2017)

We shouldn’t limit ourselves to world travel when we can go to space in AIE exhibitions! Here we see an excerpt from the catalog of the 2016 AIE exhibition in Tallinn, featuring a striking image taken from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble telescope

Images from the Hubble Space Telescope: Art in Embassies Exhibition: United States Embassy Tallinn (Washington, D.C.: Art in Embassies Program, U.S. Department of State, 2016)

The AIE exhibitions would also play an active role in diplomatic relations, like this catalog from the exhibition in Havana in 2016 which features artists’ works chosen to encourage dialogue and mutual understanding between the two nations.

So far, we’ve added 472 PDF catalogs to our collection which we’ve made freely available through our online catalog, Watsonline. A quick title search for “State Dept PDF” will bring the whole collection up. The catalogs are discoverable on WorldCat as well. For libraries interested in incorporating these records into their own catalogs, we’ve made the full record set available and downloadable from Watson Library’s GitHub page along with other online collections that we’ve provided.

Byung-joo

Works by architectural artist, Kim Byung-joo from United States Embassy Seoul: Art in Embassies Exhibition (Washington, D.C.: Art in Embassies Program, U.S. Department of State, 2019)

As AIE continues its mission to engage and provide outreach to a global audience through art, it is our pleasure to provide remote access to these catalogs to our researchers and to audiences all over the world. Many thanks to Ken Soehner for steering us to this project and to our colleagues who helped get this collection online while working remotely at home: William Blueher, Scott Clifford, Tamara Fultz, John Lindaman, and Melissa Raymond. We hope you continue to check in as the collection grows!

Ojeikere

Photographs by Nigerian artist, J . D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, from the catalog: Virginia Shore, Tabitha Brackens, Sally E. Mansfield, and Victoria See, Abuja, Nigeria: Art Collection of the United States Embassy (Washington, D.C.: Art in Embassies Program, U.S. Department of State, 2017)

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