I walk through Washington Square Park every Wednesday on my way to Alfalfa. The beautiful architecture and oasis of green in the middle of the city never fails to amaze me. But today, I was greeted by a strange metal grate in the arch with a hole in the middle.
This is a part of Ai Weiwei’s Good Fences Make Good Neighbors installation. Featuring 300 works all over New York, it is a response to anti-immigration sentiments, nationalism, and the geopolitical climate. The project will debut on October 12th. The Director of the Public Art Fund called the project “The most ambitious that we’ve undertaken since I’ve been here.” The Fund is sponsoring the project in honor of its 40th anniversary.
“We are living in a time of no tolerance…It’s completely going backward, against freedom, against humanity, against our understanding of our time. So that’s why I made a work in relation to this issue.”
The installation that I saw is the most notable of 12 works that will be located in Washington Square Park. The hole in the 37-foot square cage underneath the iconic archway is actually a silhouette of two people stepping in unison. Anyone will be able to walk through the fence.
“The triumphal arch has been a symbol of victory after war since antiquity. 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 is an artist and human rights activist who grew up in the middle of the Cultural Revolution in China. He came to New York as a student in the 1980s eventually returning to China in 1993, where he used art for political activism. After being arrested, detained, and eventually released by the Chinese government, Ai has traveled to refugee camps around the globe and dedicated his works towards social justice and awareness of migrants.
The installation will run until February 11th.0