Take a Sneak Peek at the Epic Sculpture Martin Puryear Just Finished for the US Embassy in Beijing

The artist’s monumental work heads to China 10 years after it was commissioned, joining Jeff Koons's "Tulips."

Martin Puryear’s Connecting, erected at KC Fabrications, prior to shipping to China. Photo courtesy of the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies. Courtesy of the artist.

A decade after it was first commissioned, a monumental sculpture by American artist Martin Puryear is finally heading to China. The larger-than-life work will soon begin its journey from New York State to the US Embassy in Beijing, where it will be installed later this spring.

The Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE) first commissioned the sculpture in 2008, but the artist is not one to rush. Now complete, Connecting is a graceful arc of steel that stands 31 feet tall on its granite base.

Moving it around the world is no small feat. “It will fill three shipping containers,” the foundation’s director Jennifer Duncan tells artnet News.

Duncan accompanied the artist last month to see the final product at KC Fabrications in Gardiner, near New York City, before it was dismantled ahead its journey east via the West Coast. 

The sculpture will stand outside the new Beijing consulate building—which has been a work in progress itself over the last decade. The embassy is one of eight structures in the complex designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) for the US State Department. It is the second-largest project in the agency’s history.

Duncan says Puryear and Craig Hartman, SOM’s lead architect on the award-winning embassy complex, were productive collaborators. The new complex was designed, in part, to highlight the commissioned artwork. According to Duncan, the state department built a window into a guard wall so that people outside the complex could enjoy Puryear’s sculpture. 

Connecting will join other monumental works donated by the late Ellsworth Kelly and Louise Bourgeois. Jeff Koons has lent Tulips (1995–2004) to the embassy since 2008, but the 10-year loan agreement comes to an end this summer. (The artist’s studio did not respond when asked if the loan of the large-scale work might be extended.)

Support for Puryear’s commission has come from Bank of America, Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder, and Robert Tuttle and Maria Hummer-Tuttle in honor of the New York-based philanthropist Anges Gund. In the past, Ronald Lauder and Robert Tuttle have been US ambassadors to Austria and the United Kingdom, respectively.

This year is a busy one for FAPE. The Washington, DC-based nonprofit is also organizing another high-profile commission in 2018, this time for the US Embassy in Moscow. In 2014, FAPE commissioned the US artist Don Gummer to create a work that will express the “openness and optimism of America.” A 2015 maquette called Untitled (Moscow Embassy) on the artist’s website provides a clue of how the work might look. It shows a bronze, cloud-like form on top of sinuous steel girders.

Meanwhile, the artist Mark Bradford told the LA Times this week that he has just installed his monumental work for the new US Embassy in London. The Los Angeles-based artist’s 32-panel painting incorporates the entire text of the US Constitution. It has been commissioned by the state department’s Art In Embassies program, along with works by Jenny Holzer, Rachel Whiteread, and Sean Scully. Only Whiteread’s installation has been unveiled so far.

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