A Tulip sculpture from Jeff Koons sits outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
A Tulip sculpture from Jeff Koons sits outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing. (SUBMITTED)

In April, York Mayor Kim Bracey honored Jeff Koons with an Award for the Visual Arts during a ceremony in York.

On Thursday, it was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's turn to recognize Koons, who grew up in York County and achieved international fame with his pop art pieces.

Clinton honored five artists -- Koons, Cai Guo-Qiang, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith and Carrie Mae Weems -- with the first U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts. The ceremony, held in Washington, D.C., recognized the artists' commitment to the Art in Embassies program, which is celebrating its 50th year.

A transcript of Clinton's remarks reads: "From Beijing to Monrovia, even here in Washington, these five artists have contributed works of art that are the building blocks of this shared language. And that is why we are honoring them with this first-ever Department of State Medal of the Arts Award, for their contributions to the advancement of understanding and diplomacy."

The Museum of Modern Art of New York started to organize the global arts initiative in 1953, and President John F. Kennedy formalized Art in Embassies in 1963 at the State Department. According to a news release, it engages 20,000 participants in 189 countries.

When the U.S. embassy in Beijing opened in 2008, Koons provided one of his large "Tulips" sculptures to stand outside. The piece, which symbolizes good luck in Chinese, is part of a collection featuring work from 30 artists. According to the State Department, Koons has also loaned work to several other U.S. embassies.

In 2002, Koons returned to his roots open his first York County show at York College. In 2010, state officials honored the artist with a Distinguished Arts Award during the Governor's Awards for the Arts held at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center. He lives in New York City and owns property in York County, which he and his family occasionally visit.

@FlipSidePA; 771-2051

Read more

Art in Embassies: art.state.gov

Jeff Koons: www.jeffkoons.com

Read an interview with Koons

Read about Koons' visit to York in April