After years of planning and some recent community pushback, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors will officially open across New York City on October 12.
The Public Art Fund’s ambitious project, which stands as Ai Weiwei’s largest public art exhibition to date, aligns with the profundity of his multidisciplinary humanitarian practice. It simultaneously serves as a tribute to New York, where the artist lived and worked for a decade.
“Weiwei has a formative history with New York City, and that history has been influential on the development of the project,” said Public Art Fund Director & Chief Curator Nicholas Baume at the Tuesday morning press preview of Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.
“In some ways it’s a very personal tribute to the artists before him who have made New York City their home; from Marcel Duchamp to Andy Warhol, to the minimalists and the street artists of the 1980s. At the same time it really asks us to think about our urgent challenges, and hear the voices of the most vulnerable in the world.”
More than 300 artworks around all five New York City boroughs speak to the critical nature of the refugee crisis—an international emergency of universal proportions, as Ai Weiwei informs. The ubiquitous nature of the project is intended to reach all New Yorkers, and instill a sense of personal urgency in a human plight that the artist believes all people and powerful nations must fight to end.
“Weiwei’s concept was to take the simple idea of the fence as a motif and to develop that theme, and variations if you like, all around the city in different expressions, different articulations,” Baume explained. “There are 18 sculptural works—they’re not impenetrable barriers, but powerful immersive and resonant additions to the fabric of the city.”
Ai Weiwei lived as an immigrant for 12 years in the United States, ten of which he spent in New York. He returned to China in 1993 to care for his ailing father, Ai Qing, one of the nation’s most beloved modern poets, and continued his risky practices in China. But in 2009, he was nearly beaten to death by authorities the night before he was due to testify at “the trial of a fellow dissident in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan,” the New York Times reported in an article announcing his detention.
He would be held captive in China from 2011 until 2015. When he was released and given back his passport, the Public Art Fund approached him with the idea for a large-scale project in New York City.
“I was quite hesitant because this is a city I love so much,” Ai Weiwei explained at the press conference for Good Fences Make Good Neighbors on October 10. “It’s not easy for me to just put up a simple sculpture in the city. I had to do something to pay back my respect [and] my love.”
At the time, the artist was deeply immersed in the refugee crisis, working on his soon-to-be-released documentary titled Human Flow. “The idea finally came up to address this issue in a most proper location,” he continued. “New York is great only because New York is mixed. [There are] people from everywhere and they are so passionate… [It’s] my privilege to have this show in the city.”
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors will open to the public on October 12, 2017 with a special public preview in Washington Square Park at 5:30pm on October 11. The exhibition will remain on view through February 11, 2018.
For a full list of sites and interventions around the city, click here.