Thursday, March 12, 2015

State Department Scraps Million Dollar Granite Sculpture at US Embassy in London

    Plans for a one million dollar granite sculpture for the new U.S. Embassy in London have been scrapped because the sculpture was too heavy for the planned site. As THE WEEKLY STANDARD first reported in December 2013, the State Department awarded a $1 million contract to Irish-born American artist Sean Scully to provide a sculpture for the grounds of the new embassy complex, due to open in 2017. Scully discussed the status of the project in a recent interview where he also made some inflammatory remarks about American foreign policy and compared Fox News to a white nationalist group.
    Sean Scully is known for his abstract paintings and sculptures that largely consist of multi-colored rectangles with stripes, such as this work in granite entitled "Wall of Light Cubed 2" from 2008:

    A State Department official confirmed to THE WEEKLY STANDARD that since "the weight of the Sean Scully sculpture was too great for its designated installation site, we are currently discussing alternative options. Discussions are underway and no final decisions have been made." When asked to clarify if those discussions include an alternate work by Scully or perhaps another artist, the State Department did not respond.
    Scully revealed the weight issue with his sculpture earlier in an October 2014 article at IconEye.com, a website for "international design, architecture and culture." Although the State Department indicated other options are still under discussion, Scully envisions a large ceramic mural in place of the sculpture:
“My sculptures weigh much more than buildings,” he explains, “because buildings have empty space in them.” Scully has decided to create a “gigantic ceramic painting” instead – a huge tiled mural featuring grids of his trademark stripes[.]
    In the same interview, Scully had some strong language for the controversy that erupted when news of the $1 million deal first came out in December 2013. At the time, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf answered questions about the project at a daily press briefing, and soon numerous media outlets reported the details. Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren called the expenditure "unconscionable" and "corrupt". The IconEye article reports Scully's reaction:
The project was soon mired in controversy, with Fox News – “right-wing lying bigots, like the National Front”, in Scully’s description – objecting to the $1m commission and accusing the state department of corruption.
    According to a website that promotes the British National Front, the group's constitution states that the National Front is "a radical racial nationalist movement... to ensure the survival and advancement of the White Race and the British Nation."
    Fox News was not the only target of Scully's derision. The artist also took aim at U.S. foreign policy when discussing the new London embassy building itself, which IconEye calls "a Bastille-like building":
“If you go around bombing people all over the world, you have to build not embassies, but fortresses,” Scully remarks. 
    When asked for a response to Scully's remarks, a State Department official replied, "We’re not going to comment on this."
    Sean Scully did not respond to a request through his website for comment for this article.

Note: A version of this post appeared first at The Weekly Standard.

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