State Department Spends $400,000 on Fiberglass Camel Sculpture

Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.

An artist created a sculpture of a life-size camel staring at the eye of a large needle. His work is called “Camel Contemplating Needle.” In a sort of twist of irony, the “rich” State Department is planning on buying it for $400,000 to be placed in the new U.S. embassy being constructed in Islamabad, Pakistan:

The work, by noted American artist John Baldessari, depicts a life-size white camel made of fiberglass staring in puzzlement at the eye of an oversize shiny needle — a not-so-subtle play on the New Testament phrase about the difficulty the wealthy have in entering the kingdom of heaven.

Officials explained the decision to purchase the piece of art, titled “Camel Contemplating Needle,” in a four-page document justifying a “sole source” procurement. “This artist’s product is uniquely qualified,” the document explains. “Public art which will be presented in the new embassy should reflect the values of a predominantly Islamist country,” it says. (Like the Bible, the Qur’an uses the metaphor of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.)…

In a statement, State Department press spokeswoman Christine Foushee said the proposed purchase comes from the department’s “Office of Art in Embassies.” In new construction projects, she said, a small part of the total funds, about 0.5%, is spent on art purchases.

Steven Beyer of Beyer Projects, the art dealer for the project, said the government reached out. “They approached us,” he said in a phone interview. “We were, of course, quite surprised.”

The $400,000 price tag “is actually a very a reduced price for this sculpture,” he said. “There is an art market that makes these prices, and this is one of the most prominent American artists.”

Another copy of “Camel Contemplating a Needle” is on display at Hall Wines in Napa Valley, Calif., and Beyer said that copy sold for far more then the State Department would pay.

He points out that while some Americans may find it frivolous for the government to pay for art, others will find it important. “It depends on what part of the public you are in,” he said. “If you go to the museum and enjoy art and are moved by it, things cost what they cost.”

This isn’t a question of the government’s good or bad taste in art. This is a question of whether this is a proper use of taxpayer money. Granted, in the context of the entire, bloated U.S. budget, $400k is a drop in the bucket. But this is hardly the only frivolous expenditure by the federal government. Just read one of Senator Tom Coburn’s reports on government waste sometime.

Most of what our government does is a frivolous waste of taxpayer money. The endless bureaucratic maze that comprises the myriad government agencies only serve to tax and harass people in the name of public safety.

Ron Paul wouldn’t even vote in favor of granting notable people the Congressional Medal of Honor. Not because he thought those people were undeserving, but because he thought even that was an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money. On multiple occasions, he offered to put $100 of his own money toward the purchase of a gold medal for a recipient, but no one else ever cared to do the same. Politicians are generous only when they have other people’s money to give away. And $400,000 fiberglass camel is nothing when it’s the taxpayers that are funding it.