This fall, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei will embark on his largest public art project to date, bringing around 300 individual works to all five boroughs as part of an exhibition titled "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors".
The ambitious installation, commissioned by the Public Art Fund in celebration of their 40th anniversary, will explore the "migration crisis and current global geopolitical landscape" through site-specific security fences placed in prominent spots throughout the city. Those include Central Park, the Unisphere in Queens, and, most controversially, Washington Square Park.
As the Washington Square Blog first reported, some Greenwich Village residents are up in arms in response to last week's announcement by the Public Art Fund, which revealed that the Washington Square Park installation would be placed under the archway from October 12 through February 11.
In an open letter published Friday, the Washington Square Association — the city's oldest neighborhood group — decried the forthcoming installation, which they say was pushed through despite neighborhood concerns. (This is a deliciously meta bit of NIMBYism, we'll note, considering the piece is about fences and neighbors).
"The community feedback was almost universally negative," Washington Square Association President Trevor Sumner told Gothamist. He noted that the installation would conflict with the annual tree lightning ceremony under the arch, and that it could set a "dangerous precedent as far as taking an artistic work and decorating it for a political purpose, especially for months at a time."
"It's a political statement with many different sides to it," Sumner continued. "The parks themselves are for people to get away, to seek some escape from the city and there's going to be a giant political thing in their face the whole time. Ultimately, I understand why they hid it as long as they did."
In response, a spokesperson with the Public Art Fund told us that Sumner's characterization was "grossly inaccurate," and noted that they've spent the past few months meeting with various local organizations, including Community Board 2, the Washington Square Park Conservancy, and Sumner's Washington Square Park Association.
"The vital qualities of community and open engagement that Washington Square Park embodies are among the characteristics that make it an ideal location for this important exhibition that brings to light the critical causes of the refugee crisis," the statement continued.
Ai Weiwei, a former Lower East Side resident whose latest NYC work focused on public space and mass surveillance, could not be reached for comment, though if his recent statements to Vulture are any indication, inspiring a neighborhood fence drama may have been his intention all along:
"I think public art is in the public domain. It belongs to the people who use the city’s facilities. It is open to discussion and to the public's concerns. It will be successful for public art in an open society to generate that discourse and it can make a difference on an aesthetic, moral, and philosophical level."