Hillary Clinton Will Give Koons, Cai Guo-Qiang, and More State Department’s First Arts Medals

In a luncheon ceremony tomorrow at the State Department’s Diplomatic Reception Rooms in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will honor five contemporary artists — Jeff Koons, Cai Guo-Qiang, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems — with the department’s inaugural Medal of Arts, a new award recognizing the honorees’ commitment to the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ Office of Art in Embassies program, whose 50th anniversary celebrations are the occasion for the medal ceremony.

As part of tomorrow’s celebrations, Cai will premiere a new pyrotechnic artwork, a “tree lighting” of sorts, outside the Smithsonian‘s Freer and Sackler Galleries. A live, 40-foot-tall pine will erupt in fireworks, producing a tree-shaped cloud of black smoke in thick, ink-like blots evocative of traditional Chinese brushwork.

The explosive artwork ushers in a new series of collaborations between the Sackler and Art in Embassies, which will bring exhibitions of Asian and Asian-American artists to the D.C. institution before they go on to be shown in U.S. embassies around the world.

[State Department]

— Benjamin Sutton