At the end of September, the federal government's fiscal year was drawing to a close, the threat of a shut down was increasing, and the State Department was shopping for art. Four contracts were awarded in the last two weeks of September, including $1,000,000 for a granite sculpture by Irish-born artist Sean Scully to be installed at the new U.S. Embassy in London. Notice of the awards was posted afternoon of Thanksgiving weekend on the Federal Business Opportunities website.
Although the form of the Scully sculpture is not identified in the award notification, the artist has produced granite sculptures before, including this one entitled "Wall of Light Cubed 2" in 2008:
The remaining three awards include a bronze sculpture, "Flowers", by American artist Donald Baechler ($150,000), for the new U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan; a mosaic mural by Miotto Mosaic Art Studio in Carmel, NY ($150,000), for the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil; and a work entitled "The Black Arch" by Saudi Arabian writer Raja Alem and artist Shadia Alem, for the new U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
When asked for comment on the contract awards, a State Department official provided the intended destinations for the artwork, as well as the following statement:
The Department of State’s Office of Art in Embassies curates permanent and temporary exhibitions for U.S. embassy and consulate facilities. For the past five decades Art in Embassies has played a leading role in U.S. public diplomacy with a focused mission of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and artist exchange. Art in Embassies is a public-private partnership engaging over 20,000 participants globally, including artists, museums, galleries, universities, and private collectors, and encompasses over 200 venues in 189 countries.
The art pieces listed below will become part of the collections at diplomatic posts and in some cases, comply with host city planning requirements that art be incorporated within the design scheme and displayed in public spaces. These pieces are permanent purchases, not on loan.
The State Department's 2013 budget request included $2.5M for the Art in Embassies program.
UPDATE: A State Department official emails to say, "Sean Scully was born in Ireland, but is now an American." This post has been updated to reflect that fact.