New York, New York, what a wonderful town!
Works of art from the Collection are particularly well represented in New York City. The displays show the wide span of the Collection, from portraits and landscapes by 17th-century painters to works by several of Britain’s leading contemporary artists.
There are displays in each of the three residences – those of the British Consul General and the Permanent and Deputy Permanent Representatives to the United Nations. As Gene Kelly famously sang ‘New York, New York, what a wonderful town’- but how does the art on display measure up? What do the diplomats based in New York feel that art contributes to the British presence there?
British Consul General in New York and HM Trade Commissioner for North America, Antony Phillipson, has drawn attention to how the arts articulate a shared source of pride for both countries,
“The arts are an essential part of the fabric that joins the UK and the US, especially in New York. They provide a canvas on which we can depict the next phase of the special relationship in all its forms.”
Art displays from the Collection are designed to create stimulating environments for visitors to the UK’s Residences.Sir John Sawers, a leading British diplomat who was the British Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2007-2009, believes that art can play a specific role as he explains, ‘Modern British art sets the stage for modern British diplomacy. The art demonstrates style, quality and a distinctive British approach, as we try to do in our diplomacy too’.
While he was Consul General in New York from 2011–2016, Danny Lopez hosted a range of diplomatic receptions. Reflecting on the impact that an art display can make, he comments: ‘Each year we showcase the best of Britain to over 10,000 people: business leaders, politicians, artists and thinkers of all stripes, sports stars and members of the Royal family. It’s a wonderful and versatile space…’
Many of the artworks selected make links between the artist or the work and the city itself. Prominently displayed in the dining room at the Consul General’s Residence, for example, is a 17th-century portrait of King James II as Duke of York, by John Michael Wright.
This painting was selected for display in New York to link to an important moment in the city’s history – the year of 1664 when the English captured the colony of New Netherland, renaming it New York, in honour of the Duke, who then presided over the colony. In the 1920s Edward Burra (1905–1976) made many trips to New York, where he frequented jazz clubs in Harlem. His pen and ink drawing Jazz Fans is also on display at the Residence.
At the Residence of the Ambassador to the United Nations, another work, New York, from Brooklyn by Charles Ernest Cundall presents an evocative view of the city’s skyline as it appeared in the late 1930s.
There are several contemporary works on display in New York which have a connection to the city, including a print of a water tower by Rachel Whiteread. Depicting the translucent resin cast of the interior of a water tank, this is a study for a public sculpture project that she undertook in New York in 1998, commissioned by the Public Art Fund.
Perhaps most recognisably, two characteristic screenprints of the Queen by Andy Warhol are on display. Describing the work, Consul General Phillipson has said:
“We are incredibly fortunate to have one of Andy Warhol’s iconic prints of Her Majesty The Queen, part of his Reigning Queens series and based on Her Silver Jubilee portrait. It speaks not only to UK and US links but also Warhol’s time working in New York and, less known I think, his origins in Pittsburgh, also part of the patch covered by the New York Consulate and the location of a wonderful museum that holds the biggest single collection of his work. It is an instantly recognizable piece and a favourite backdrop for photos taken by the 1000s of guests who pass through the residence every year.”
Leading contemporary British artists are also represented at the Consul General’s Residence, including Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry. His print Map of an Englishman, depicts an extraordinarily detailed insight into the artist’s own mind, reflecting his fears and neuroses.
Other Turner Prize nominees include Cornelia Parker, whose works Stolen Thunder I-III present three iterations of a blank work almost engulfed by red dots indicating sales at three successive Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions; and Dexter Dalwood whose painting Marquee is a depiction of an empty stage at London’s Marquee Club, renowned for helping launch the careers of many rock and punk bands.
The display of art at the Residence of the Deputy Ambassador to the UN was refreshed in 2013 by two paintings from the 1960s. The jaunty fishing boat in Roger Hilton’s Pequod namesakes Captain Ahab’s ship chronicled in Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby Dick.
Texan Landscape by Peter Lanyon pays colourful homage to the dynamic paintings of the American Abstract Expressionists of the mid 1950s whose work influenced many young British artists at the time.
The impact these displays have on visitors is clear from the response that the GAC receives. As Dame Karen Pierce, Permanent Representative to the United Nations has told us, ‘Many colleagues from the Commonwealth, the UN and the US see this art and it makes a big impression on them. Not only through the quality of the wonderful works themselves but because of the message they send about a modern UK engaging with the world.’
A New York State of Mind
Dame Karen Pierce, UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2006-2009, talks in the video below about the works of art on display in her official residence in New York during the time she was working there. Dame Pierce is now UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations since 2018.