The long awaited exhibition from world renowned artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei is here: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, is officially on view. Inspired by the international migration crisis and geopolitical landscape, the Public Art Fund’s exhibition turns the security fence into a powerful artistic symbol with interventions across the city. This massive exhibition features over 300+ site specific locations across all five-boroughs; including large scale installations in Central Park, Washington Square Park, and the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park Queens.
Ai Weiwei transformed the material of metal wire commonly found in a security fence into an important artistic symbol for the exhibition. Installing fences in varying site-specific forms at locations throughout New York City, the artist’s striking installations draw attention to the role of the fence as both a physical and metaphorical expression of division, while exploring society’s most urgent issues: divisions in our political systems, controversies over immigration and boarder control, and the pain of the fleeing refugee.
We recently traveled along with the Public Art Fund team on a preview tour of the city-wide exhibition. Read on as we explore this ground-breaking installation, and learn more about the interventions now on view across the city.
Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Central Park
This large scale free-standing installation is located at the Southeast entrance of Central Park, within Doris C. Freedman Plaza. This golden piece transforms the fence into an abstract, cage-like structure, that becomes a gorgeous sculpture against the city skyline. The piece references structures of division, such as bars and fences, while juxtaposed against the urban oasis of Central Park, it’s vast space and open areas, lush forests and vegetation. Gilded Cage allows for viewers to walk around and within the sculpture, to engage directly with the installation, and stand within the cage to peer out to Manhattan on the other side.
Harlem Bus Shelter
125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard
Transportation is a key component in the conversation about refugees and immigrants, central to this debate is also the forced emigration from their home and restriction of their free movement. Ai Weiwei interventions can be found at 10 bus shelters in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and highlight the importance to access and movement in a thriving city. Not only just an installation, the pieces will incorporate additional seating – functioning both as a sculpture and an amenity.
Unisphere, Flushing Meadows Corona park, Queens
Flushing Meadows Corona Park is located between several of the most diverse immigration neighborhoods in New York City, and the perfect place to unveil Circle Fence, around the famous Unisphere structure in Queens. Circle Fence keeps a low profile so it doesn’t obstruct the symbolic sculpture, and instead emphasizes the structure’s symbolic meaning by encircling the area, and engaging the representation of earth through circular mesh netting held up with circular metal rings. This 1,000 foot-long global border can be seen as playful (especially as you can lie directly upon it) all while creating a quite sobering scene.
Essex Street Market, Manhattan
Ai Weiwei installed banners depicting a narrative scene at the Essex Market in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Along the facade’s flagpoles, and above the colorful mural below, the banners depict the journeys of refugees that were driven by hope. When sunlight shines through, intended shadows shine on the ground – creating Chinese lettering, flowers, birds and butterfly shadows on the sidewalk below. The use of a banners here draws attention upward to the architecture of these low lying buildings in a neighborhood that has been home to many immigrant groups.
The Cooper Union for Advancement of Science and Art
The 5 fences placed here fill the open arched spaces on the north portico facade of the building, simultaneously covering these open spaces but remaining porous. To preserve the building facade, the fences were placed by wrapping around the structural poles, and do not damage the building beneath it, suggesting that social division can adapt itself to existing conditions.
Washington Square Arch, Washington Square Park
Ai’s nearly 40 foot tall cage structure is located within the triumphal arch. The sculpture’s center is a polished mirror passageway, depicting two united human silhouettes. Visitors must use this passageway to pass through the Washington Square Arch, and will see their reflection, and reflection of many others along the way. In Ai’s words: “The basic form of a fence or cage suggests that it might inhibit movement through the arch, but instead a passageway cuts through the barrier – a door obstructed, through which another door opens.”
There’s many more of Ai Weiwei’s incredible interventions across the city. Read more about these installations and find out where other exhibition pieces are located with Public Art Fund’s interactive map HERE.
Thank you to Public Art Fund for inviting us on this incredible tour.