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  • Aug 30, 2017

Community Protests Ai Weiwei’s Planned “Fences” In Washington Square Park

Rendering of one piece in the multi-part Public Art Fund project Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors at Doris C. Freedman Plaza. Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio / Frahm & Frahm.

Ai Weiwei’s proposal for a public art project scheduled to begin mid-October in high-traffic environments within New York City has been met with resistance from the Washington Square community—specifically for an installation designed for the Washington Square Arch located in Lower Manhattan.

Commissioned by the Public Art Fund in New York on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” are site-specific installations that will use the metal wire security fences as both a “physical manifestation and metaphorical expression of division.” The project is the Chinese dissident artist’s largest public exhibition to date, meant to be installed throughout New York’s five boroughs, including spaces like Lower Manhattan, Central Park and at JCDecaux bus shelters.

In a public letter to the Public Art Fund, the board of directors of Washington Square Association—the oldest neighborhood organization in charge of supporting and promoting cultural events in the park since 1906—has requested that the nonprofit organization “withdraw its plans” for the proposed installation under the Washington Square Arch. Criticizing the institution for presenting the designs without any advisement from the community, they stated in the letter that “the feedback of the community in such a long-standing and disruptive project should have been more intrinsic to the process.”

Rendering of one piece in the multi-part Public Art Fund project Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors at Washington Square Park. Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio / Frahm & Frahm.

Washington Square Association’s president Trevor Sumner also noted in his interview with Jake Offenhartz from New York’s Gothamist that the installation poses a “dangerous precedent as far as taking an artistic work and decorating it for a political purpose, especially for months at a time [. . .] The parks themselves are for people to get away, to seek some escape from the city and there’s going to be a giant political thing in their face the whole time. Ultimately, I understand why they hid it as long as they did.”

Offenhartz reports that a spokesperson at the Public Art Fund redressed Sumner’s statement, indicating that the organization had reached out and met with local organizations on the matter, including the Washington Square Park Association, Washington Square Park Conservancy and New York’s Community Board 2. He noted that Sumner’s claims were “grossly inaccurate.”

Julee WJ Chung is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor.

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