October 10, 2017
Ai Wei Wei and Nicholas Baume at Doris C Freedman Plaza for Good Fences Make Good Neighbors (press preview)
It was 9:07 AM, and the artist was discreetly standing to the right of his Gilded Cage sculpture in Doris C. Freedman plaza in Central Park. Ai Wei Wei, artist behind Good Fences Make Good Neighbors – an immersive public art experience around NYC’s Five Boros – was standing next to the Central Park behemoth which was realized with the support of the Public Art Fund. The Fund is currently celebrating 40 years, with Wei Wei’s project as their central focus celebrating this momentous milestone. Wei Wei was deep in conversation with a city official when the photographers swarmed him, creating a buzz of activity near a path of curious dog walkers and joggers.
Wei Wei can similarly expect that his art installations, situated throughout New York City Parks including Central Park, Washington Square Park, and the Unisphere at Corona, Queens, will be swarmed by visitors during its duration from October 12, 2017 through February 11, 2018. Each site-specific work responds to the surrounding architecture and echoes themes of immigration and inclusivity. Wei Wei has planned discreet references to the personal faces of immigration and global migration visible on lampposts throughout the City – including near the Gilded Cage work – featuring documentary portraiture from Wei Wei’s visits to over forty refugee camps in twenty-three countries. Additionally, graphics echoing themes related to the refugee crisis will be installed at bus stations and public sites throughout the City.
Wei Wei himself was kept under home arrest for years in his native China after a stint living as an artist for twelve years in New York City’s Lower East Side neighborhood, and this return to NYC is a triumphal return for him as well as a personal tribute to the residents of the City. After recovering his passport in 2015, the artist relocated his studio to Berlin and resumed talks with Public Art Fund’s Nicholas Baume that began in 2011 on a large-scale public art project based in New York City. Baume notes that the various iterations of Ai Wei Wei’s Good Fences Make Good Neighbors “form different articulations of fences as a motif resonating throughout the City.” By meditating on the different ways we can experience and exercise inclusion within our communities, Wei Wei breaks down perceptions concerning who belongs where, facilitating new environments where people can relate to one another on a personal level.
Ai Wei Wei’s “Arch” in Washington Square Park, New York City
Wei Wei himself noted of the project, “We are living in a divided time; I’ve learned so much from [my time in] this City: here, you never feel like you’re a foreigner.” He notes that this feeling of inclusion is crucial to New York City as a global beacon of hope for those who call this city home. By supporting our diverse ecosystem of international communities throughout the five boros, we can better reflect on how to be a good neighbor to those who call on us in a time of need and break apart the stereotypes that stand between us.