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Ai Weiwei builds ‘fences’ across New York’s five boroughs

Over 300 artworks by Ai Weiwei have popped up across New York as part of his new multi-site installation – including giant fence sculptures.

Created with support from Public Art Fund, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors launches tomorrow and uses the symbol of the security fence to explore the turbulent geopolitical landscape and the continuing international migration.

Though the entire installation encompasses the city’s five boroughs – and multiple forms, including sculpture and photography – the centre-piece is three large-scale, site-specific sculptures. At Central Park’s Doris C Freedman Plaza, Ai Weiwei has transformed a fence into an abstract ‘Gilded Cage’, while another has been turned into a low ‘Circle Fence’ around the Unisphere at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens.

Ai Weiwei, ‘Guilded Cage’, 2017. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio/ Frahm & Frahm. Photography: Ai Weiwei Studio, courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Over at Washington Square in Greenwich Village meanwhile, an almost 40-ft tall piece – made by UAP, which partnered on the project – takes the shape of a birdcage. It features the punched-out silhouette of two humans, which create a mirrored passageway through the sculpture, inspired by the Marcel Duchamp’s glass entry to the Gradiva gallery in Paris.

‘The triumphal arch has been a symbol of victory after war since antiquity,’ says Ai Weiwei. ‘The basic form of a fence or cage suggests that it might inhibit movement through the arch, but instead a passageway cuts through this barrier – a door obstructed, through which another door opens.’

Ai Weiwei, ‘Arch’, 2017. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio/ Frahm & Frahm. Photography: Jason Wyche, courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Another artwork in the bumper installation comprises a string of steel banners mounted on flagpoles above the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side. They depict the perilous journeys undertaken by refugees.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors also touches upon Ai Weiwei’s experience as a migrant in the city. At 48th East 7th Street – where the artist lived in a basement when he first migrated from China in the 1980s as a student – a fence artwork sits between two buildings, while two rooftop fence sculptures have been installed atop a nightclub at 189 Chrystie Street and 248 Bowery, a historic building dating back to the early 1800s.

Ai Weiwei, ‘Arch’, 2017. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio/ Frahm & Frahm. Photography: Jason Wyche, courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Advertising spaces at 100 of the city’s bus shelters also show documentary photography of the refugee crisis, while 200 banners have been hung on lampposts across the city.

Says Public Art Fund’s director and chief curator, Nicholas Baume: ‘In many ways, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors is the culmination of [Ai Weiwei’s] work to date. It grows out of his personal experience of “otherness,” his distinguished practice as both artist and architect, as well as his intensive research on the international refugee crisis and global rise of nationalism. At the same time, his long and formative history with New York has been deeply influential in the development of this exhibition.’

‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbors’ runs from 12 October until 11 February 2018

Read next: Ryoji Ikeda and Anish Kapoor animate Store Studios at London’s 180 The Strand



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