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Where EAST meets the Northwest

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 Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

From The Asian Reporter, V27, #20 (October 16, 2017), page 8.

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 projects.

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."


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