The Art in Embassies program of the U.S. State Department just turned 50 last year, but its growth in the last decade has been particularly dramatic if the insured value of the artwork is any indication. Although Art in Embassies purchases original works, such as the $1 million sculpture for the new U.S. Embassy in London, much of the artwork on display at various State Department installations throughout the world is in fact borrowed. In 2002, the State Department maintained a $20 million policy for artwork. By 2010, it had grown to $65 million. This year, the agency is looking to renew its current level of coverage, informing interested providers that "[i]nsurance must cover all items in any location in a Department of State facility abroad up to a value of $200,000,000." Last year, the $200 million policy cost the government $86,932.
While the policy covers up to $200 million, the latest itemized list of values by location (updated December 2013) totals only a little over $41 million, but the State Department notes the list is not comprehensive. Dozens of countries are listed, but more than $23 million alone is for artwork in Beijing, China. The State Department established a permanent collection in 2008 at the US Embassy in Beijing entitled Landscapes of the Mind, which consists of "48 paintings, photographs, sculptures and mixed-media works by 28 prominent American and Chinese artists."
Additionally, although Italy is not included on the values by location list, the solicitation also seeks "War and Terrorism Coverage for $15 million for Rome, Italy." That coverage may be intended to cover a permanent display of a significant body of artwork at Villa Taverna in Rome, although an inquiry to the State Department to confirm this has not yet been answered. The display in Rome includes this untitled 1970 work by artist Cy Twombly:
While the State Department does not provide a comprehensive list of all covered items, the 2010 solicitation (when the total insured value was $65 million) included a long list of items, artwork and antiques, owned by the State Department. The items range from $5 million for a "slant-front desk," $470,000 for a "coffee/tea service," and $500,000 for a commemorative painting of the Declaration of Independence, all the way down to $15 for "documents." The exact locations of the items are not identified, though a considerable number list "storeroom" as where they currently reside.
Based on the loss history for artwork for the last several years, the State Department is an ideal customer. Claims range from a high of only $9,089 in 2008 to a low of $0 in 2013 when no claims were made. Most losses seem to stem from damage during transit to or from State Department facilities, though sometimes improper handling of the artwork while on display has been to blame.
When asked in December for a response to the latest round of purchases for Art in Embassies, the State Department released the following statement about the program:
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.