Ai Weiwei’s ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbors’ Coming to New York City

In celebration of its 40th anniversary, Public Art Fund is introducing a timely new exhibition across multiple boroughs in New York City by the world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei. The exhibition will take place under the title, “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” a name that goes back to the classic American poem ‘Mending Wall’ by Robert Frost, which explores the role and impulse for boundaries in society, where tradition and habit often mask fear and narrow-mindedness. The project is inspired by the international migration crisis and tense sociopolitical battles around the world. With “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” Ai Weiwei is challenging the metal wire security fences segregating societies by transforming them into a powerful artistic symbol.

The Chinese artist will be installing fences in varying, site-specific forms at locations across the city – including sites like the New York City Economic Development Corporation-managed Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art on Astor Place, JCDecaux bus shelters in Brooklyn in partnership with the New York City Department of Transportation, Doris C. Freedman Plaza at Central Park and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens both in partnership with NYC Parks, and numerous other locations throughout the city. “Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” will be on view October 12, 2017 – February 11, 2018 at sites throughout New York City.

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Ai Weiwei Studio

“I was an immigrant in New York in the 1980s for ten years and the issue with the migration crisis has been a longtime focus of my practice,” says Weiwei. “The fence has always been a tool in the vocabulary of political landscaping and evokes associations with words like ‘border,’ ‘security,’ and ‘neighbor,’ which are connected to the current global political environment. But what’s important to remember is that while barriers have been used to divide us, as humans we are all the same. Some are more privileged than others, but with that privilege comes a responsibility to do more.”

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Rally Battery Park Against Travel Ban. DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

City officials have voiced their happiness with the project and their eagerness to see how it will turn out.”With Good Fences Make Good Neighbors [Weiwei] 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,” Chirlane McCray, the first lady of New York, said in a statement.

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Weiwei in New York.
Courtesy of Asia Society Museum

Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing, China. He lives and works in the capitals of Germany and China. The award-winning artist moved to New York in 1983 to study at the Parsons School of Design and lived there until 1993. His major solo exhibitions include the National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic in 2017, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy a year earlier along with many others. This exhibition is not the first time Weiwei contributes to urban space, with previous architectural collaborations including the 2012 Serpentine Pavilion and the 2008 Beijing National Stadium, with Herzog and de Meuron.

Weiwei’s artwork will appear on rooftops, in spaces between buildings, on bus shelters, as freestanding sculptures, and more – as if growing out of the existing urban landscape, while also changing how we perceive our environment. The fences will serve as a powerful metaphor in a city that has always served as a gateway to the US for millions of immigrants.

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