US president Donald Trump has canceled a visit to the UK and called America’s new embassy in London a “bad deal,” in a characteristically unfettered tweet. This confirmed speculation that he will snub the embassy’s opening next week on January 16. In so doing, Trump will miss the unveiling of a monumental work by the British artist Rachel Whiteread who, along with US artists Jenny Holzer and Mark Bradford, among others, have been commissioned by Art in Embassies to create large-scale, site-specific works.
Trump also takes issue with the embassy’s new address, preferring the traditional Grosvenor Square home in upmarket Mayfair. Trump criticized Obama for the new embassy, but critics were quick to tweet that the deal and the new site were in fact initiated post 9/11 during George W. Bush’s presidency. (The new embassy, which is surrounded by a moat, has been compared to a fortress.)
The 1960s, Eero Saarinen-designed US Embassy was not known for its art collection, whereas in the new, $1 billion building, designed by Philadelphia-based architect Kieran Timberlake, works of art will be impossible to miss.
Further commissions in the embassy are by artist Sean Scully, who’s contributing a mosaic wall, and the sound artists Ryan and Hays Holladay who have designed a virtual, site-specific sound app that links the new embassy building in south London on the Thames with its rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Nine Elms.
The first images of a finalized work to be released show Whiteread’s US Embassy (flat pack houses) (2013-15). The artist, whose major survey is traveling from Tate Britain to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, this year, has cast the kit-form part of a typical, small suburban American home of the 1950s, which could be purchased via a catalogue. Each part is mounted on exterior and exterior walls of the embassy building. “The work will greet most embassy visitors as they enter into the lobby through the consular court,” according to a press statement. It is made of a specially formulated concrete to lower the weight loading.
Holzer’s work, quote call-out project, will be carved in granite on a wall besides the embassy’s water features. She asked students in the US and the UK to help choose quotes suitable for the offices of the ambassador of the United States to the Court of St James’s. With the help of a curatorial committee, Holzer chose a final list including quotes by The Queen, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Robert F. Kennedy.
Another text-based work, this time of the entire US Constitution, will fill the atrium of the new embassy. Bradford’s We The People (2016), which is formed by 32 panels, each 10 foot square, is due to be installed in February. The Art Newspaper reports that that fellow Los Angeles-based artist Catherine Opie is due to make works for the new building along with the British artists Eva Rothschild and Alison Watt.
The US embassy in London did not respond to enquiries whether an early plan to include a gallery in the new building for temporary art exhibitions was going ahead. The former US ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun and his wife, Brooke, who is an art curator and the daughter of the founder of the Speed Museum of Art in Louisville Kentucky, were high-profile supporters of contemporary art in the new building and in their official residence, Winfield House, in London’s Regent’s Park.
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