After Donald Trump won the US presidential election on 8 November 2016, Puerto Rican artist Enoc Perez got to work painting a new series featuring American embassies across the world. Perez had the idea for the project the summer before the election as he saw Trump go head to head with Hillary Clinton.
‘I feel that we’re at a moment of what feels like an existential crisis for this country and the embassies are sanctuaries,’ said Perez. ‘They were and they are a reflection of what the country is. I wanted to hold that mirror, to do an image of what we have of ourselves as Americans and what the reality actually may be.’
Perez selected a number of embassies — new, old, and demolished — to become part of a series of architectural paintings, carefully layering the paint to resemble a blueprint. After debuting at Frieze New York at Peter Blum Gallery, Enoc’s series goes on show in Los Angeles at UTA Artist Space through 17 June.
US Embassy Beijing, 2017
Perez chose the embassies based on aesthetics. ‘The first criteria was whether the buildings were cool, that’s what I always gravitate to,’ said Perez, admitting, ‘I’m not an architectural scholar.’ Among his choices were a number of modernist structures, designed by architects who were asked to create ‘an architectural form representative of the United States’ while showing ‘neighbourly sympathy’.
The artist recalled a more optimistic time in Iraq, painting Catalan-Spanish architect Joseph Lluís Sert’s US Embassy in Baghdad, which was built in the 1950s, but abandoned when the US left the country in the early 70s — it has since returned, with a new fortress-like embassy by Berger Devine Yaeger.
With Perez’s paintbrush, Eero Saarinen’s embassy in London becomes a symbol of strength in concrete. The Saigon outpost, meanwhile, marks a historical moment during the fall of the city in 1975, when Americans were helicoptered away to safety. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s 2008 American Embassy in Beijing — one of the biggest — shows off a bouquet of coulorful flowers by Jeff Koons in a water feature in the foreground.
The work makes viewers question the current state of the country through the very buildings that represent the US overseas. ‘They give a feeling of power, an optimistic power,’ said Perez. ‘They mention a place where things are possible. Now they’re more like bunkers because of security issues, considering recent history.’