Secretary Kerry remarks at Medal of Arts 2015

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented the awards to the recipients of the second U.S. Department of State-Medal of Arts — Xu Bing, Mark Bradford, Sam Gilliam, Maya Lin, Julie Mehretu, Pedro Reyes, and Kehinde Wiley during ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 21, 2015. These are his opening remarks.

Full Transcript

0:02 ladies and gentlemen the Secretary of State
0:05 John F Kerry and director
0:08 art in embassies Ellen Susman and the chief curator and deputy director of art
0:14 and embassies
0:15 Virginia shore
0:40 hello everybody
0:41 welcome I’m Ellen Susman the director art in embassies
0:44 and it’s my pleasure to welcome Secretary of State and all of you to the
0:48 second
0:49 art in embassies medal of arts awards today we honor seven artists
0:54 whose talent and dedication to their work
0:57 and mission of cultivating dialogue and exchange through the visual arts
1:02 has enriched our program for many many years
1:05 but first a warm welcome to the ambassador from China
1:09 to the United States his Excellency (name in Chinese)
1:13 and to the executive director of the Mexican Institute
1:17 Laura Ramirez I would also like to acknowledge our own state department
1:23 luminaries
1:23 Tony Blinken the deputy secretary of state
1:27 and the director of the overseas buildings operations Lydia Muniz
1:31 who administers the United States efforts around the world
1:34 to build both sustainable and secure new embassies
1:38 heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the sponsors have our luncheon
1:41 Jill and Jay Bernstein, Blake Burn, Gail and Al Engleburg,
1:46 Jeanie and Mickey Klein, Jo Carroll Lauder, Sarah Morgan
1:50 Shelly Rubin, Lori Tisch, and Sarah and Gary Walkowitz
1:54 I’m also immensely grateful to Dick and Sue Wollick, who while I can former ambassador Cathie
1:59 Hall
1:59 and her husband Craig of Hall wines for so graciously donating the delicious wine
2:05 on your tables and finally to Art in embassies amazing staff you’ll meet
2:10 somebody from our office
2:11 at every table without them there would be no curated temporary or permanent
2:16 exhibitions for ambassadors were embassies
2:19 no web presence no cultural outreach
2:22 and no publications like the beautiful booklet on every seat
2:26 which is a perfect example up the more than 70 we produced every year
2:30 now that the acknowledgements are done I’d like to see a few quick words about why
2:35 we’re here
2:36 about what matters and it is this we’re all in this room because at the core of
2:41 our being
2:41 we believe that art does and can change lives
2:45 it can create meaning and bridge a divide, show us something new
2:48 show or something old in a new way, enliven
2:52 and help us to question ourselves and the world around us
2:55 as art classes in funding are cut from schools and public programs
3:00 Art in embassies is proof that the visual arts matter
3:03 on a huge and global scale I recently received a fortune cookie that read
3:08 be brave enough to live creatively and looking at the artists today receiving
3:13 the award
3:13 there can be no doubt that this is their mantra, all of you
3:17 are driven to create. your works will for ever grace the walls of our embassies
3:22 around the world
3:23 your art is often the first and only vision of America people in another
3:27 country see
3:28 and as they walk into an annex or stand in line for a visa
3:33 your art welcomes them into the home
3:36 of democracy. art in embassies works with young emerging artist
3:40 older established artists American artist
3:43 international artists and when we going to a foreign country
3:47 the work of artists in that host country hangs on the walls
3:51 alongside yours. that is power. that this conversation
3:56 and that is diplomacy. artists themselves are often the most well-spoken
4:01 about the place art has in our lives bill viola
4:04 the master of contemporary video art said this
4:07 last summer the hallmarks all human beings
4:11 is creativity and all over this in this room
4:14 our creative in one way or another but before creativity can manifest there
4:18 must be inspiration
4:20 which starts as a tiny spark in the human heart
4:23 a recognition of something that touches us or catches us off-guard
4:27 and then finally there’s mystery the most important of all.
4:31 today we live in a world of reflections and mirrors
4:35 the mirror reflects only what is shown to learn something new
4:39 one must break the mirror to discover what is beyond
4:43 I thank you for your contribution for helping us around the world
4:47 an art in embassies is counting on everybody in this room to continue
4:51 expanding our mission
4:53 and now the secretary
4:56 sometimes you meet someone and you know that they’re destined for greatness
5:00 I first met secretary Kerry in new hampshire in 1972
5:04 when I was 21 and his friend George butler’s true farm. I’m
5:08 we were all working to help elect george mcgovern
5:11 that cold winter and John had his own dreams and a plan
5:15 for life dedicated to public service the synchronicity of life never ceases to
5:20 amaze me
5:21 and it’d my honor to serve our secretary of state
5:24 a man who has worked tirelessly his entire life
5:28 to make this country and the world a better place to live
5:31 ladies and gentlemen Secretary of State John Kerry
5:42 thank you very much thank you very much ladies and gentlemen I accept the
5:46 nomination
5:47 tried that
5:52 been there
5:53 I love it is great to be here with all due in
5:57 It is great to be here with all of you and especially indoors as it begins to snow out there.
6:01 Those of you who I met earlier who’ve come up here from
6:05 Palm Beach have an obligation to take some of us back with you.
6:08 I want you to know also that
6:12 this is a place where we like to do firsts
6:16 but lol I’m tell you truthfully that is the first time I’ve ever heard wisdom
6:22 from a Chinese fortune
6:23 Joke yes, good idea yes.
6:27 It is a pleasure for me to welcome our terrific ambassador
6:33 from China, who is a good friend of mine personally
6:37 and very persuasive and important and influential in the city, and we thank you for coming here
6:42 and being with us today.
6:43 Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. former ambassadors who were here
6:46 likewise I want to recognize my very good friend and former colleague Senator
6:51 Chris Dodd
6:52 It’s good to be with you, Chris. It’s really
6:56 up special to gather here
7:00 in the Ben Franklin Room where
7:04 we hold special events we do a lot of things in this room but most importantly
7:08 this is our
7:09 premier place to bring people this where we do the Kennedy Center Honors
7:14 that’s where we now have the privilege honoring 7 highly accomplished men and
7:20 women
7:20 who enrich our lives
7:24 with art and thereby
7:28 contribute immeasurably, really, to America’s cultural
7:31 diplomacy nobody should ever underestimate
7:35 the power, importance of cultural diplomacy and
7:39 when I say cultural it’s in every form cultures
7:42 It’s in our music, it’s in our visual arts, it’s in our literature;
7:46 and every respect
7:48 it has an impact on people. I’ve met people – I know Chris did when he was in the Senate
7:52 you visit somewhere, you meet with people in civil society
7:57 or you meet with dissidents in a country or you meet with even former leaders
8:01 Vaclav Havel
8:01 others who themselves are
8:04 in the Arts so to speak, even as they are engaged in politics.
8:08 And the impact of words, of dreams,
8:12 aspirations people’s visions and hopes
8:16 is so powerful beyond measure from Latin America we’ve had some the most powerful
8:22 voices
8:22 Russia from other countries over the course of time
8:26 so you know this a special
8:29 I can tell you personally along time ago but the
8:33 time %uh the discovery of fire I had some aspirations be an artist myself
8:39 I mean way back I was a kid I played the
8:43 bass guitar in a rock n roll band best thing I could
8:47 to describe our sound was will say loud but we had fun
8:52 and the I’d fool around well as an undergraduate college with the
8:57 filmmaking and you know my images were too
9:00 blurry my pans were too fast but boy did I have fun
9:05 not funny discovered that what I really want to do is what I’m doing today
9:09 I still take my guitar with me
9:12 on the airplane and entertain only myself
9:16 sure you but it’s fun and
9:19 my appreciation for the craft in the skill of
9:23 the artist is just plain and simply grown immeasurably over these years and
9:28 particularly
9:29 as Secretary of State as I travel the world is
9:33 Secretariat privilege to
9:36 go into our many missions around the world always get see
9:40 the art you helped place whether it’s in the residence
9:45 or in the embassy or consulate itself
9:49 in Kyiv
9:51 I saw Susanna Starrs embroidered
9:54 doilies on display at Villa Taverna
9:58 I saw the marvelous
10:02 Calder sculpture that’s out in the garden
10:06 and sat there really a with prime minister netanyahu
10:11 with others negotiating and talking even as we look to cross
10:15 over at this extraordinary display a
10:19 in Rabat there is Kendall Busters
10:23 sweeping pattern flow that descends gracefully from the ceiling
10:27 in this weightless beauty
10:31 and when I get to see these exhibits one of the things that comes home to me very quickly
10:36 comes home to me
10:37 very quickly is the
10:40 Breadth and the diversity of our
10:44 presentation and that is is it ought to be because it really reflects the
10:48 diversity of our countries who we are
10:50 and that’s what are our supposed to reflect whenever people have another
10:54 country look at us
10:56 they in fact whether it’s its
10:59 art per se cultures a whole they see
11:04 I think apart themselves and in some cases
11:09 they also get an opportunity to imagine things that they don’t have
11:13 whether its human rights freedoms for opportunities
11:17 american culture is a mosaic
11:20 everything from Armenian
11:23 to Zimbabwe everything in between and when all of our traditions come together
11:29 they
11:30 absolutely do create universal language that is
11:35 the really in indispensable asset for
11:39 the American brand and for our diplomacy
11:42 art in embassy its
11:45 is the principal lens through which the world is able to view the dynamism the
11:51 our culture
11:52 and AIE
11:56 was commissioned in nineteen sixty-three under the very premise that American
12:01 fine art could reach out to people thousands miles away
12:04 people who speak different languages practice different customs worship
12:08 different gods
12:10 perhaps not even any at all so the first director Nancy Kefauver
12:16 used her position to bring color and light
12:19 to embassies Kuala Lumpur to moscow she sent
12:23 Mark Rothko’s oil paintings to New Delhi
12:26 placed Andy Warhols acrylic flowers
12:30 in Madrid and Nepal and she shipped
12:33 Reginald Marsh’s Harbor scenes Copenhagen her goal she said was to show
12:38 all the world what america stands for and in her words
12:41 to make sure that it was more than our cokes and frigidaires
12:44 1963
12:49 Folks AIE was born when artists were giving new meaning
12:53 to beliefs about freedom of expression and individual liberty
12:57 believes that people held in their hearts then even in the long shadow the
13:02 Berlin Wall
13:03 and which we were all too graphically reminded
13:06 of in terms of its cost in Paris
13:10 few days ago there are many ways to trumpet
13:14 the virtues that an open society but none
13:17 subtle as compelling whereas
13:21 elegant as well chosen art
13:24 so today we honor are artists
13:28 we honor them because of the mirror they hold up to who we are and
13:32 what we hope to be in because they have the ability to astonish
13:36 to surprise to inspire to make us think
13:40 in New and hopefully liberating ways
13:43 art enriches life and when you consider the concrete barriers
13:49 and other architectural handicaps which many of our embassies are saddled with
13:55 that enrichment is the counter
13:58 to all of that. it lifts
14:00 not only morale have our visitors but believe me also
14:03 our employees and for that we are extremely
14:06 grateful all this goes to underscore what everybody in this room really knows
14:11 very well
14:12 art can be a transformational force across
14:16 globe it is and if we need any further evidence we have only the contemplate
14:22 careers of the artists who we recognize
14:26 this afternoon and now it’s my
14:29 privilege to be able to offer a word of appreciation
14:33 for each of our awardees while
14:36 Ellen and Virginia Shore our chief curator will give out the medals as I
14:41 say a word about each artist and I want every one of you at the end of that
14:44 to receive them appropriately many of us know
14:48 Sam Gilliam as the legendary Washington Color School painter
14:52 around here he is a patron and passionate believer
14:56 in AIE he today Sam has paintings in over 20 countries
15:01 including Morocco Cyprus and South Korea
15:04 and for his longtime supporter permission Sam is the first to receive
15:08 the Medal of Arts lifetime achievement award
15:12 congratulations
15:40 Xu Bing once said that
15:42 art should serve the people which is exactly what the two
15:46 spectacular additions that is monkeys grasping the moon
15:50 sculpture do each day in washington sackler Gallery
15:54 and our embassy in Beijing for his efforts to link
15:57 chinese-american and many other cultures through art
16:01 we thank and congratulate Xu Bing.
16:20 Xu Bing flew all the way from Beijing yesterday literally arrived here
16:24 in time to do this we’re very grateful thank you honor us by
16:28 being here Appreciate it, thank you. when
16:32 mark Bradford looks at the city he sees more than the
16:37 rest of us do with our untrained eyes he invariably looks everywhere and he sees art
16:42 everywhere mark’s collages and
16:46 installation some scavenged all beautiful
16:49 have hung in our embassies in Stockholm and Berlin
16:53 each tells a different story about the American experience a class
16:58 gender and race in an urban environment
17:01 mark we joined and saying congratulations and thank you
17:04 here
17:24 Julie Mehretu’s
17:26 acrylic paintings are made with the accumulation of thousands
17:30 strokes and numerous layers of paint. The effect
17:34 is a complex dynamic body of work which we are proud to display our embassies in
17:39 Madrid
17:40 and Julie’s own birthplace of Addis Ababa.
17:43 Julie, thank you for your creativity and for what
17:46 you’ve lent to us. We appreciate it.
18:02 Pedro Reyes’ sculpture depicting the
18:05 inner ear displayed at our consulate
18:09 is displayed on our consulate in Tijuana and it is a poignant reminder that
18:13 people everywhere need to listen to one another.
18:16 Pedro once said that art is supposed to make people talk
18:20 not about the work itself but about the discussions there yet
18:25 to come Pedro for convincing us
18:28 to listen harder and to hear more
18:31 when we do, we say congratulations here
18:47 Kehinde Wiley has redefined the art of portraiture
18:51 by using highly naturalistic technique not only to depict but to celebrate
18:56 and lift up
18:57 the world’s people in all of their magnificent variety
19:01 for his work in the Dominican Republic Britain and Jamaica
19:05 I congratulate Kehinde and a thank him for his commitment
19:08 and you gotta get me one of those coats
19:31 and Maya Lin’s work
19:33 explores the environment in a way that only
19:36 a brilliant artist can. In our beijing embassy
19:40 we’re pleased to display her Pin River
19:43 installation which is a rendering the entire
19:46 topography the Yangtze river using
19:49 30,000 metal pins and as a veteran of
19:53 the conflict in Vietnam let me also acknowledge the quiet eloquence
19:58 her renowned designed to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
20:02 I know I’m not alone. When you reach out and touch that
20:05 wall or visit it’s a remarkable place and we are so grateful to you for your
20:09 contributions to our country to our relations with other countries
20:13 and for the art you produce thank you.
20:16 (applause)
20:32 so let me ask everybody if you at all join together I want you to rise and pay
20:36 tribute to everybody
20:37 say congratulations to our artists and patriots in the true sense thank you for
20:43 your commitment the ideals of our nation
20:45 and for letting us use your work to forge greater understanding around the
20:49 world
20:49 we are so greatful.