Fencing In New York

Ai Weiwei’s latest canvas is the five boroughs of New York, where the Chinese artist has installed more than 300 pieces as part of the Public Art Fund exhibition “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.”

Washington Square Park exhibits one of the larger pieces. A 40-foot tall mirrored structure is within the park’s famous arch, erected in 1892. Ai, who lived in New York in the 1980s, remembers the area as a home to immigrants of all backgrounds.


04-37-goodfences_arch_nicholasknightAi Weiwei Arch, 2017. Digital print, Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio/ Frahm & Frahm, Photo: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of Public Art Fund

“The basic form of a fence or cage suggests that it might inhibit movement through the arch, but instead a passageway cuts through this barrier – a door obstructed, through which another door opens,” Ai says.

While the silhouettes placed within the arch invite exploration, a fence—no matter how beautiful or shiny—causes a different type of interaction with the community and the environment. Take note of your own reactions.

04-36-goodfences_arch_nicholasknightAi Weiwei Arch, 2017. Digital print, Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio/ Frahm & Frahm, Photo: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of Public Art Fund

Two other large Ai Weiwei installations are in New York’s green spaces: one in Manhattan’s Central Park (Gilded Cage, shown), and the other in Queen’s Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

04-09-goodfences_gildedcage_jasonwycheAi Weiwei Gilded Cage, 2017. Mild steel, paint, Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio/ Frahm & Frahm, Photo: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Those tooling around the Lower East Side of Manhattan should pay attention to the fence-like “interventions” on private buildings (48 East 7th Street, 189 Chrystie Street, 248 Bowery, and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art at Astor Place).

04-18-goodfences_bowerfence_night_jasonwycheAi Weiwei Bowery Fence, 2017. Steel, paint, Courtesy of the artist, Photo: Timothy Schenck, Courtesy of Public Art Fund, NY

“These works will stop New Yorkers in their paths and invite reflection on the barriers that divide us, and in turn, the immensity of what unites us as humans,” says Bitta Mostofi, Acting Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Until the exhibition ends (February 11, 2018), it’s worth taking the time to translate the messages of Ai Weiwei. More than 300 are dropped around the five boroughs like clues helping us to unlock what it means to be human. They show up in bus shelters, as banners from lampposts, and as fences. An interactive map can be found on Public Art Fund.


Featured Photo: Ai Weiwei Banner 114, 2017 CNC. Cut Polymar truck tarp, Courtesy of the artist, Photo: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

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