The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei will show works across all five boroughs of New York this autumn in a major citywide project. Good Fences Make Good Neighbours (24 October-11 February 2018) is staged by the Public Art Fund as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations. The exhibition uses fences as a way to explore immigration, boundaries and the ongoing refugee crisis. Ai, who lived in New York in the 1980s when he was a student, says it is a love letter to the city and its people.
The outdoor show will include large-scale site-specific sculptures as well as photography to be presented in more than 300 spots, both public and privately owned, across the city. Weiweis sculptural variations on the fence represent the various barriers, physical and otherwise, that divide us, says Nicholas Baume, the director and chief curator of the Public Art Fund. At the same time they challenge the idea of a boundary by inviting people to walk through, peer up at, or take a seat on them.
The works will alter experiences at some of the city’s most recognisable monuments. Visitors to Washington Square Parks famous Washington Square Arch, the massive 1892 monument built for the centenary of George Washingtons presidential inauguration, will have to walk through a work by Ai that narrows the passageway. The installation, around 50 feet high, looks like a giant arched cage with bars, but has cut-outs in the form of two people for pedestrians to walk through. There will also be an installation at the Unisphere at Corona Meadows Park in Flushing, Queens, the enormous metal globe built for the 1964 Worlds Fair. Immigrants now largely populate that area of the city.
There will also be multiple works scattered across the Lower East Side, where many immigrants lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One sculpture will be installed in between two buildings on East 7th Street, where Ai used to live in a basement apartment.
In addition to the sculptures, a new series of documentary photographs by Ai about the global refugee crisis will also be on show. These will be displayed on kiosks for LinkNYC (free Wi-Fi and communication kiosks), bus shelters and newsstands in Harlem and Downtown Brooklyn. Around 200 lamppost banners around the city will also show portraits of immigrants from different time periods.
We believe that art has the ability to inspire, captivate, and raise questionsat such a critical time, we hope people who encounter the show in their daily lives will take a moment to consider the works and what they might stand for, Baume says.