Wednesday, May 3, 7:00-8:30 PM
Καλησπέρα! Good evening and welcome. I’m going to make this very brief. I just wanted to say to everybody here this evening how thrilled Mary and I are to welcome you all to our house as we have what we intend to be the debut of the Embassy’s new Art in Embassies collection.
The Art in Embassies program is one of the great privileges of being an American Ambassador overseas. It’s a program administered by the Department of State, designed to display and take around the world great works of American and international art, that allow us, in our residences, to show the very best of American culture. This is a program that has existed for some fifty years now and has been a meaningful part of our diplomacy. The goal is to give international audiences a sense of the quality, the scope, and the diversity of the United States’ and Greece’s art culture.
Mary and I had a wonderful time as we put together our collection for Greece because this is such a special collection. We wanted something that would capture our impressions of this remarkable country. In that regard, I want to say special thanks to somebody who’s not here, that is our curator from Art in Embassies in Washington – her name is Sarah Tanguy. But we hope very much that we’ll be able to host her here in Athens at some point. And she’s somebody who, from the first time Mary and I sat down with her to talk about this collection, clearly shared our love for this country and our vision, which we hope shines through in the collection today.
When Mary and I first came to Greece, and it was Olympics time in the early 2000s when we first came to Athens, I remember being struck so much by the light and the air, which is something that people in Athens take for granted but, when you’ve lived in places like New Delhi or Vienna, Austria, you really appreciate. We especially appreciated it because it reminds us so much of our home in Southern California. And so, we built our collection around this theme of light and “Illumination.”
The collection you see around the house this evening includes eighteen works of art by thirteen American artists. The work right behind me is by an artist named Eric Nash. The title is “76 with Two Palms”, you can guess why! I call it “the ball”. But it really sets the tone for the whole exhibition with its light, the pop-art image – it is Los Angeles and California at its purest for me, with the bright blue skies and colorful tones. So we were pleased to highlight that.
I think you’ll see as you look at some of the other works around the house that some will remind you of Greek landscapes – whether it’s Carole Boller’s colorful beach umbrella, “Waiting”, which is in the back there, or “Bougainvillea and Wave” which is on the other side of the wall by Marcia Butt. There’s America Martin’s “Women in the Vineyard”, which is the large piece we feature in the second room, and it is bathed by kind of warm sunlight and could easily, in my mind, have been inspired by Nemea or some of the Greek wine country as much as California, which is actually the subject of that one. And, light and reflection, you will notice, also bring out a range of colors and strike different emotional cords in works by artists like Peter Loftus and Jan Heaton.
One of my favorite works is on the opposite side of the wall to my right; it’s called “Vanity” by Harrison Halker Heinks, who is a member of the Very Special Arts program, he’s photographer with autism. And he had this to say about his pieces: so “people have a tendency to ignore me because I have a disability. One way I see myself existing in this world is by capturing my reflection in everyday scenarios.” And, I think, when you look at the piece, you’ll understand what he’s talking about. So, Mary and I are very happy to have one of his pieces, his reflection pieces, in this collection.
Another exceptional series that we were really moved and honored to be able to host is “Leaves”, which is by the artist Eric Rhein in the dining room. Those, the leaves to my left here, these leaves are all part of an AIDS memorial and each leaf represents a specific individual that the artist pays tribute to, people he knew and admired who died of AIDS. And there’s a little explanatory note which I hope you take a minute to look at.
And, of course, we also wanted to host some exceptional Greek artists. And, in this regard, I want to say special thanks, a little shout out, to Artemis – one of the greatest ambassadors of the United States here in Greece, as head of the Fulbright Program. But, thank you, Artemis, for what you’ve done to help us put together a representative sample of some of the exceptional Fulbright artists – a couple of whom are with us here this evening, I’ll let them identify themselves to you if they wish to do so. And I look forward to using this space over the next couple of years to highlight other Greek artists as well and to emphasize this very strong connection that we feel between our home in California and this country where we’re living right now.
So I hope you all can take a moment this evening to enjoy all of these pieces. Art is something that speaks to people’s hearts and minds in more profound ways than any political discourse. And I, for one, suspect my Ambassador colleagues would share this, welcome the opportunity to have an evening where we don’t have to talk about memoranda, or negotiations, or the troika! But, the point is, that art can truly transcend borders and bring us all together and that’s the spirit of this exposition.
And we are, I do want to, again, express particular gratitude to all of the artists who have made this possible, but especially those who are with us here this evening. I hope that this Art in Embassies collection will brings us all a little bit closer; will advance what is my highest priority, which is to build the bilateral relationship between the people of America and the people of Greece. And I hope we will all enjoy this beautiful evening, which feels so much like a midsummer evening at home. So, thank you, and I hope everybody enjoys the evening, and a quick toast! Στην υγειά σας!