The installed treaties on de-fences exhibits featuring sculptures on pedestals

Artist Jorge Otero-Pailos Unveils Treaties on De-Fences Exhibit at NMAD

On June 4, 2024, the National Museum of American Diplomacy (NMAD), in partnership with the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, opened Treaties on De-Fences, an art exhibition exploring the intersection of art, architecture, and cultural diplomacy by artist and preservation architect Jorge Otero-Pailos.

The exhibition presents Otero-Pailos’ artistic intervention on the decommissioned U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway, designed by famed modernist architect Eero Saarinen during the Cold War, which Otero-Pailos helped to preserve.

On display are sculptures he created using the steel fence that once guarded the embassy, an artifact he considered historically significant that would have been destined for the scrapyard. The exhibit also showcases a book containing 51 limited edition prints, some displayed on the walls, which are inspired by the diplomatic treaties the fence witnessed.

Otero-Pailos conceived these artworks to initiate a national conversation about the preservation of Cold War U.S. embassies, as many are being decommissioned. The embassies were originally designed to encourage goodwill towards the United States through their public libraries, theaters, and art galleries. The exhibition examines the potential of art in reimagining their future while honoring their original intent.

This exhibition runs concurrently with Analogue Sites, Otero-Pailos’ public art exhibition on Park Avenue in New York City. The public art installation, on view through October 2024, comprises three of the larger sculptures created out of the fence, located on the malls of East 53rd, 66th, and 67th Streets, across from the Seagram and the Park Avenue Armory landmark buildings.

NMAD’s mission is to present the history, challenges, and practice of U.S. diplomacy to the American public. Through exhibitions like this one, NMAD aims to inspire visitors to learn more about the work of diplomacy and its impact around the world.

On June 4, 2024, NMAD and FAPE hosted a reception and panel discussion to open the exhibition. The panel featured the artist and David B. Peterson, Executive Director of the Onera Foundation and author of U.S. Embassies of the Cold War: The Architecture of Democracy, Diplomacy and Defense. The discussion was moderated by Associate Editor of The Washington Post Eugene Robinson.

Peterson started the discussion with an overview of the embassies built during the Cold War. He talked about the buildings themselves and the significant role they played in managing global relationships.

“It’s hard to exaggerate the fear and anxiety of the Cold War,” Peterson said. “Embassies were not just about diplomacy. They were about cultural diplomacy which connected international audiences to American culture and values.”

The architects chosen to build these embassies were the best of their day. Eugene Robinson commented, “Through their open, forward-thinking designs, the values of our country were represented through their work.”

“This exhibition, for me, is really an attempt to ignite a discussion about how we can preserve these amazing modernist embassies that we built…and how we can bring that into the open,” said Otero-Pailos.

Treaties on De-Fences is about sharing the multi-faceted work of diplomacy with the public, which Otero-Pailos discovered through the project. “I thought diplomacy was about trying to prevent war, but it’s about so many other things. It was unbelievable to me to learn the work of diplomacy and the art of diplomacy.”

The exhibition is in partnership with and through the generosity of the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE), thanks to the Ford Foundation, with additional funding provided by the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. It was conceptualized, curated, and produced in collaboration with Otero-Pailos Studio.

Treaties on De-Fences will be open to the public through multiple open house events this summer. Visitors can sign up to see the exhibit, and other exhibits at NMAD, on June 12, June 26, July 10, and July 31, from 10:30 am to 11:15 am, or 11:15 am to 12:00 pm. Space is limited, and registration is required at least 48 hours in advance. Visitors can register through NMAD’s website form. For those unable to view the exhibit in person, visitors can see much of the art on NMAD’s exhibit page. On the site, visitors can explore supplementary audio clips from the artist.

You can also learn more about the exhibit through FAPE’s Bloomberg Connects page. Click this link on a mobile device to access the digital guide.

Jorge Otero-Pailos (b. 1971, Madrid) is an American-Spanish artist and preservation architect known for his monumental dust-casts of historical buildings. Together with his partner Laurence Lafforgue (b. 1975, Paris), they run Otero-Pailos Studio as a platform for experimental preservation projects. Otero-Pailos has been commissioned by and exhibited at major heritage sites, museums, foundations, and biennials, including the Chicago Architecture Biennale (2017), Artangel’s public art commission at the UK Parliament (2016), the V&A Museum (2015), and the Venice Biennale (2009). He is the recipient of a 2021-22 American Academy in Rome Residency in the visual arts.

Otero-Pailos collaborates on the creative restoration and interpretation of landmark sites. Notably, Otero-Pailos achieved an award-winning restoration of New Holland Island in St. Petersburg, Russia, in partnership with WorkAC (2013) and of the Saarinen-designed former U.S. embassy in Oslo, Norway, with Langdalen Arkitektkontor, Atelier Oslo, and Lund Hagem Architects (2023). He is the Director and Professor of Historic Preservation at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), where he also directs the Columbia Preservation Technology Lab and where he founded the first Ph.D. program in Historic Preservation in the United States.

The National Museum of American Diplomacy (NMAD) is the first and only museum dedicated to telling the story of the history, challenges, and practice of U.S. diplomacy. This one-of-a-kind museum is located where diplomacy happens every day: the U.S. Department of State headquarters in Washington, DC.

The Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE) is a public-private partnership dedicated to providing permanent works of American art for U.S. embassies worldwide. For almost 40 years, FAPE has contributed to the U.S. Department of State’s mission of cultural diplomacy by partnering with American artists whose works encourage cross-cultural understanding within the diplomatic community and the international public. FAPE believes that American art is a means to express our values and our culture, and is another language of diplomacy, one that brings people together.

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