The State Department is planning to spend $400,000 to purchase a fiberglass statue of a white camel for a new U.S. embassy being built in Pakistan, BuzzFeed first reported Monday, citing contracting records.
The sculpture, by artist John Baldessari, is of a life-size ablino camel staring upward at the eye of a huge needle.
“A life-size dromedary with its neck extended inquisitively eyes a super-sized needle in a way which makes the viewer think it could actually pass through the needle’s eye,” described Hall Wines, which has a copy of the piece on display. “The colorless beast with striking blue eyes is simultaneously intriguing and peculiar especially when stripped of its pigment and fur.”
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) March 31, 2014
The statue appears to be in reference to the famous “eye of a needle” scripture, in which Jesus warns that it is easier for a camel get through an eye of a needle than a rich man enter the kingdom of God.
“And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” Matthew 19:24 says, according to the King James translation of the Bible.
Beyer Project’s Steven Beyer — the art dealer for the project — said he was stunned the U.S. government would look to make such a purchase.
“They approached us,” he told BuzzFeed. “We were, of course, quite surprised.”
[sharequote align=”center”]“We were, of course, quite surprised.”[/sharequote]
Beyer said the sculpture was being sold at a “very reduced price” and that “there is an art market that makes these prices, and this is one of the most prominent American artists.” He told BuzzFeed that while some may think it is a waste of money, others may find it enjoyable.
The $400,000 purchase was justified by U.S. officials in a four-page document, titled “Camel Contemplating Needle.”
“This artist’s product is uniquely qualified,” the document states. “Public art which will be presented in the new embassy should reflect the values of a predominantly Islamist country.”
It was not clear, however, how a statue referencing the “eye of a needle” Biblical passage would accomplish this goal.
The document then continues to cite Wikipedia as an authoritative source to show that the artist is an “American conceptual artist known for his work.”
A State Department spokeswoman told BuzzFeed that the money comes from the department’s “Office of Art in Embassies” budget.
Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter
Featured image via Shutterstock.