Whitehot Magazine

July 2011, Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies: U.S. Mission to the United Nations

U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
Odili Donald Odita, Light and Vision, 2010
acrylic latex wall paint on wall, 110 1/4" x 234 1/4" (second floor h x w)
gift of the artist; Photo Copyright Paul Warchol


Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, NY 10017

In 1989 AIDS was a global epidemic and the same year that Robert Mappelthorpe died from the disease. Rumors about the collapse of Communism in the USSR and East Germany swirled worldwide as the United States continued to recover from the stock market crash that occurred two years earlier. Amidst the conflicting tones of tragedy and anticipation, Frank Stella donated a print titled The Symphony, (1989) to the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE) in an edition that was large enough for one print to appear in every American embassy around the world. Since then, FAPE has installed work by an increasing number of notable artists at different locations around the world. The organization’s most ambitious project to date, curated by Robert Storr, appears in New York at the Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building.

Diversity is the moniker for this visually stimulating installation that appears across 19 floors, that is site-specific as well as multi-faceted. The main floor of the building opens with Untitled, (2009-10) by Carrie Mae Weems which consists of 42 panels that individually measure 11-inches square and expands to about six-feet across the gray marble wall. Collectively this piece utilizes an array of colors, an immediate metaphor for issues surrounding race in America. In each row of colored panels, at least two anonymous portraits of individual from African-American descent appear. Weems uses bright hues such as green, blue and pink to pose the question, “What is color?”

A site-specific mural by Odili Donald Odita titled, Light and Vision, (2010) also appears on both the first and second floors near the bay of elevators. Odita’s mural presents a geometry of contrasting colors that appear immediately vibrant through sharp-angled juxtapositions. A flurry of paintings, photographs, and prints appear throughout the upper floors of the US/UN building. Ellsworth Kelly’s The Mallarmé Series, (1999) consist of four framed lithographs that represent a singular shape in either red, green, blue or black. As seen in another piece by Kelly titled, Red Curve, State I, each of these depictions is part of the artist’s larger examination of abstract forms. Geometric abstraction also appears in three screen-prints by Joel Shapiro titled, Boat, Bird, Mother and Child (2009) – studies for his sculpture maquette, GZ 1:8 model (2010).

Located in the United Nations Plaza, the US/UN building features work by over 50 artists such as Romare Bearden, Christo, Ellsworth Kelly, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Kenneth Noland, Martin Puryear and Catherine Opie. An outstanding proscenium features a wall piece by Sol LeWitt and is balanced with sculptures by Ron Gorchov and Lynda Benglis. The catch to this vast installation is that it is closed to the public, available to viewers only through pictures. This stands in stark contrast to the fact that Andy Warhol’s first Factory was once located only a few blocks away on the corner of 2nd Avenue and East 47th Street, where contemporary art was nothing but a series of experiments open to anyone who wanted to stop by, contribute or lounge. Still, this amount of contemporary American art within a government institution is remarkable given that federal support for the arts is far lower than it was in the 1960s and 70s.

U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled, 2009/10
Inkjet print; 11 3/16 x 11 3/16 inches per framed panel; 42 panels total
Gift of the artist; Photo Copyright Paul Warchol


U.S. Mission to the United Nations

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #832: A red spiral line on blue, 1999
acrylic paint, 40 x 126-feet-high, site specific
Donated in 2008; Photo Copyright Paul Warchol

Ron Gorchov, Totem, 2009
painting: paint on linen with wood support; support: bronze obelisk; 19-feet-high
Gift of the artist; Photo Copyright

Paul Warchol

Jill Conner

Jill Conner is an art critic and curator based in New York City. She is currently the New York Editor for Whitehot Magazine and writes for other publications such as Afterimage, ArtUS, Sculpture and Art in America.  

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