across new york, world renowned artist and activist ai weiwei has unveiled a city-wide public exhibition titled ‘good fences make good neighbors’. presented by public art fund on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, the series of large- and small-scale installations, first previewed by designboom here, addresses the international migration crisis and current global geopolitical landscape by using the motif of ‘security fences’ as a powerful artistic symbol.

 

designboom took part in an exclusive press tour of the exhibition’s major sites, where we heard more about the artworks from weiwei and nicholas baume, director and chief curator of the public art fund.

ai weiwei fences
‘gilded cage’ stands at the entrance to central park
image © designboom

 

 

having grown up amid the upheavals of the cultural revolutions in china, weiwei has developed a particular empathy with displaced people — circumstances which led him to address the topic of ‘fences’. over the past years, the artist traveled to refugee camps across the globe and dedicated much of his practice to bringing attention to the plight of displaced people, many of whom are victims of war or acts of terror.

ai weiwei fences
the giant gilded cage evokes the luxury of nearby fifth avenue 
image © designboom

 

 

presented by public art fund and developed in close collaboration with its curatorial team, the exhibition features a range of components at varying scales, intended to spread a political message across the boroughs of new york city. due to its large scale and extensive scope, the exhibit required cooperation from both public and private organizations.

ai weiwei fences
visitors are able to enter the cage’s central space
image © designboom

 

 

the site specificity of ‘good fences make good neighbors’ pays particular homage to weiwei’s own life, having lived in the city for more than a decade. ‘new york is the city that I spent about 10 years in,’ the artist said at the press preview. ‘I learned so much from this city and I love it so much. its not easy for me to do this work. I have to do something to pay back my respect, and my love.’

ai weiwei fences
inside, bars and turnstiles surround visitors 
image © designboom

 

 

‘we had the choice to do work in different locations, like rockefeller center for example,’ weiwei continues. ‘but I’m more interested in the city, like bus stations. that really makes the five boroughs — the people who use the city, as a facility’. by adopting elements of the urban fabric as the backdrop for his work, weiwei creates an accessible exhibit that is interwoven with the daily lives of all new yorkers.

ai weiwei fences
sculptural interventions surround bus shelters in the city
image © designboom

 

 

large-scale, site-specific works are installed in three major parks around the city, including ‘the arch’ at washington square park — a 40-foot tall cage structure within the triumphal monument — realized and fabricated in collaboration with UAP. ‘the 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’, explains the artist.

ai weiwei fences
a fence becomes an artistic intervention in an otherwise utilitarian urban object 
image © designboom

 

 

site-specific interventions are also placed on top of and even in between private buildings around lower manhattan. the exhibit also includes a series of new flagpole-mounted works sited on the façade of the essex street market, as well as sculptural interventions that surround 10 bus shelters across the city. 

ai weiwei fences
weiwei has sculpted a small slope in the fence to act as a seat 
image © designboom

 

 

in addition to these pieces, weiwei has developed a series of 200 banners that appear in all five boroughs on lampposts. the banners feature portraits of immigrants from different periods, photographs of notable refugees, images from weiwei’s studio, and cell phone photos taken by the artist at refugee camps around the world.

ai weiwei fences
the bus shelters are located throughout the boroughs of new york city 
image © designboom

 

 

‘in many ways, ‘good fences make good neighbors’ is the culmination of ai weiwei’s work to date’ explains nicholas baume, director and chief curator of the public art fund. ‘it grows out of his personal experience of ‘otherness,’ his distinguished practice as both artist and architect, as well as his intensive research on the international refugee crisis and global rise of nationalism.’

ai weiwei fences
‘circle fence’ is located at the unisphere in queens
image © designboom

 

 

variations on the fence – from metal chain link to synthetic netting – form interventions that adapt to their sites, ‘as if growing out of urban space and changing how we relate to the fence and our environment’. the project marks ai weiwei’s largest and most ambitious public art exhibition to date and will be on view from october 12, 2017 – february 11, 2018, at 300+ sites across new york city.

ai weiwei fences
a 1,000-foot-long fence uses a series of metal frames
image © designboom

ai weiwei fences
interconnected netting surrounds the site
image © designboom

ai weiwei fences
‘arch’ is erected inside the washington square monument 
image © designboom


the 37-foot-tall steel cage echoes the iconic form of the marble arch
image © designboom

ai weiwei fences
a passageway through its center allows visitors to walk through 
image © designboom

ai weiwei fences
the cage perfectly sits beneath the archway 
image © designboom

ai weiwei fences
flagpole-mounted works are featured on the façade of the essex street market
image © designboom

ai weiwei fences
the sheet illustrates abstract depictions of refugees 
image © designboom

ai weiwei fences
a fence is slotted in between two private buildings in the lower east side
image © designboom

ai weiwei fences
banners feature portraits of immigrants from different periods
image © designboom

ai weiwei fences
five arch-filling security fences are installed at the foundation building of the cooper union
image © designboom

    have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.

    comments policy
    LOG IN
    designboom's comment policy guidelines
    generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
    the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

    what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
    let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

    - please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
    - please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
    - please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
    - please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
    - please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
    (there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
    in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
    the best 100-200 entries too.)

    a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.

    art news