A generation ago, "percent for art" schemes started taking off in culturally-enlightened parts of the world. The idea is that when a new public (or even private) building is constructed, 1% of the budget should be used to fund and install public art. New York’s percent for art scheme, for instance, was inaugurated in 1983, and has been a great success.
So I was happy to see that the brand-new US embassy in Beijing "will display work by at least 18 American and Chinese contemporary artists, including Jeff Koons, Cai Guo-Qiang, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg, Betty Woodman, Martin Puryear, Maya Lin, Yun-Fei Ji, and Hai Bo" — and will feature, outdoors, a bunch of Jeff Koons Tulips which is on loan for ten years. But then I looked at the numbers:
The State Department calculates its art budgets based on a building’s square footage, and the $800,000 spent for art on the Beijing project is the largest sum ever for a US embassy…
The new $550m complex, designed by the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, is one of the two largest construction projects ever undertaken by the State Department on foreign soil.
This isn’t percent for art, this is 0.14% for art. I’m glad that State’s Virginia Shore has managed to get works by Ellsworth Kelly, Martin Puryear, Louise Bourgeois and Mark di Suvero to be donated outright to the embassy — but given that everybody else associated with the embassy construction got paid their full going rate in cash, why should artists be expected to get nothing?