On October 12th, internationally-renowned Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei will unveil his largest-ever public art project. Organized by the Public Art Fund and spanning multiple New York City boroughs, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors will address the current migration crisis through 300 metal security fences, each transformed into “a powerful artistic symbol.”
The fences are due for installation at site-specific points of interest around the city—one of which includes the famous archway overlooking Washington Square Park, and local residents are less than thrilled.
On August 27th, the Washington Square Park Blog reported “community opposition,” explaining, “When the project was first announced, locations announced included a Southeast section outside of Central Park, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and Cooper Union. No mention of Washington Square Park until last week. Nothing of this scope and for this long a period has, to my knowledge, ever occurred at the Arch; the siting will be directly under and within the scope of the 125 year old monument.”
In a letter to the Public Art Fund, the Washington Square Association (the oldest organization of its kind in New York City) wrote, “The monumental Arch is a work of art in itself. It does not need to be politicized with the proposed installation … We feel that the integrity of its design would be compromised by Mr. Weiwei’s art work …” Interference with the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony under the Arch (a neighborhood tradition since 1924), and lack of community involvement were also stated as reasons for challenging the installation.
While Washington Square Association President Trevor Sumner told Gothamist that “The community feedback was almost universally negative,” Public Art Fund’s President, Susan K. Freedman, wrote that Sumner’s reaction was “in stark contrast with the collegial and productive nature of [their] conversations to date,” citing meetings not only with the Washington Square Association, but also with Community Board 2 and the Washington Square Park Conservancy.
“The vital qualities of community and open engagement that Washington Square Park embodies are among the characteristics that make it an ideal location for this important exhibition that brings to light a powerful statement about division and separation at a global, national, local, and personal level,” Freedman wrote in response to the Washington Square Association’s letter.
For Ai Weiwei, “What’s important to remember is that while barriers have been used to divide us, as humans we are all the same,” the artist said in a statement issued by the Public Art Fund. “Some are more privileged than others, but with that privilege comes a responsibility to do more.”
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors will be unveiled in October 2017, and remain on view until February 11, 2018.