CITYWIDE EXHIBIT. Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei
participates in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss his film,
Human Flow, at AOL Studios in New York. An enormous exhibit
by Ai, designed to draw attention to the world’s refugee crisis,
is now on view at some 300 sites around New York City. (Photo by
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #20 (October 16, 2017),
Huge immigration-themed exhibit by famed
artist in NYC
NEW YORK (AP) — An enormous exhibit by activist artist Ai
Weiwei, designed to draw attention to the world’s refugee
crisis, is now on view at some 300 sites around New York City.
"Good Fences Make Good Neighbors," presented by the Public
Art Fund, is open to the public through February 11.
A global trend of "trying to separate us by color, race,
religion, nationality" is a blow "against freedom, against
humanity," Ai said at a Manhattan press conference. "That’s why
I made a work related to this issue."
Ai, now based in Berlin, is considered one of the world’s
most successful artists.
He spent his childhood in a remote Chinese community after
his father, a poet, was exiled by Communist authorities. He came
to New York City as an art student in the 1980s, then returned
to his homeland in 1993, using his art and public platform to
address political issues. He was alternately encouraged,
tolerated, and harassed, spending time in detention and being
barred for years from leaving the country.
Since his passport was reinstated in 2015, Ai and his team
have travelled to 23 countries and territories and more than 40
refugee camps while making a documentary, Human Flow.
The New York exhibit includes three large-scale works and
ancillary works throughout the city. Ai expressed a special
affinity for Manhattan’s Lower East Side, his former home.
Art is incorporated onto flagpoles, bus shelters, lampposts,
newsstands, and rooftops. Banners bear portraits of immigrants
from different periods, including historic pictures from Ellis
Island. There are also images from Ai’s Human Flow
At Central Park’s Doris C. Freedman Plaza, viewers are able
to walk in and around a work titled "Gilded Cage."
The 24-foot-tall symbol of division stands in powerful
contrast to one of the most visited urban public parks in the
U.S., the Public Art Fund says. "Designed as a democratic oasis
and vision of utopia, Central Park has vast open areas, lush
forests, and monuments of heroes and explorers," it says.
Another cage-like structure, about 40 feet tall, is in
Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Arch, built in 1892. "When
I lived in New York in the ’80s, I spent much of my time in
Washington Square Park," an area that was "a home to immigrants
of all backgrounds," Ai said in a statement.
"The triumphal arch has been a symbol of victory after war
since antiquity," he said. "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."
The third large-scale work is displayed at Flushing Meadows
Corona Park in Queens, surrounded by some of the city’s most
diverse neighborhoods. "Circle Fence" features a low, mesh
netting around the Unisphere, a 120-foot-diameter globe
commissioned for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair.
The big globe "celebrated both the dawn of the space age and
the fair’s broader theme of Peace Through Understanding,"
according to the city’s parks department.
"Rather than impeding views of the historical site," says the
Public Art Fund, "the installation [emphasizes] the Unisphere’s
form and symbolic meaning, engaging with the steel
representation of the earth."