Ai to build fences across New York

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei says his public art project, Good Fences Make Good Neighbours, is a reaction to "a retreat from the essential attitude of openness" in United States politics.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei says his public art project, Good Fences Make Good Neighbours, is a reaction to "a retreat from the essential attitude of openness" in United States politics.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Ai Weiwei, the provocative Chinese artist, will build more than 100 fences and installations around New York City late this year for Good Fences Make Good Neighbours, one of his most large-scale public art projects to date.

The exhibition, which opens on Oct 12, was commissioned by the Public Art Fund to celebrate the organisation's 40th anniversary and will comprise about 10 major fencethemed installations and scores of smaller works spread across multiple boroughs, including Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

"This is the most ambitious that we've undertaken since I've been here," said Mr Nicholas Baume, who has been the Public Art Fund's director and chief curator since 2009. "Certainly, it's the most distributed throughout the city."

Throughout its history, the Public Art Fund has commissioned major artists such as Alexander Calder and Sol LeWitt and has funded seminal works including Olafur Eliasson's New York City Waterfalls in 2008 and Tatzu Nishi's Discovering Columbus in 2012.

Among the planned sites for Ai's project are Flushing MeadowsCorona Park in Queens, the Cooper Union building in Manhattan and Doris C. Freedman Plaza at the tourist-heavy south-east corner of Central Park.

The title is a reference to Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall, which uses the line, "Good fences make good neighbours", as a mysterious refrain.

Ai, who lived in New York during the 1980s, said in an e-mail that this work is a reaction to "a retreat from the essential attitude of openness" in United States politics.

"When the Berlin Wall fell, there were 11 countries with border fences and walls," he said.

"By 2016, that number had increased to 70. We are witnessing a rise in nationalism, an increase in the closure of borders and an exclusionary attitude towards migrants and refugees, the victims of war and the casualties of globalisation."

His other recent artworks have similarly dealt with heated current events, such as the exhibition Laundromat, which included thousands of cast-off items from a refugee camp, at Deitch Projects late last year.

And in June, Hansel & Gretel, a surveillance-themed installation created with architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, will open at the Park Avenue Armory.

Ms Chirlane McCray, wife of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, said in a statement: "Ai Weiwei pours his heart and soul into art that asks big questions and is not constrained by artistic and social traditions."

With Good Fences Make Good Neighbours, she added, "he challenges us to think about the function and rationale for a common barrier".

"Given that the immigrant experience is at the core of what binds us as New Yorkers, the exhibition compels us to question the rhetoric and policies that seek to divide us."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2017, with the headline 'Ai to build fences across New York'. Print Edition | Subscribe