Ai Weiwei’s provocative ‘Fences’ artwork coming to Downtown Brooklyn

Citywide exhibition inspired by international migration crisis and Trump’s wall

March 27, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A rendering of one of scores of artworks by Ai Weiwei’s upcoming “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” exhibition. Several pieces will be installed atop bus shelters in Downtown Brooklyn. Rendering courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio

Artwork on the theme of fences, by renowned Chinese artist/political activist Ai Weiwei, will be installed at numerous sites across three boroughs this coming fall — including atop bus shelters in Downtown Brooklyn.

On Oct. 12, Weiwei’s exhibition “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” commissioned by the Public Art Fund to celebrate its 40th anniversary, will capture the world’s attention with roughly ten major large, stand-alone installations and dozens of smaller “interventions.” The exhibition, running four months, will contain about 100 pieces, according to a Public Art Fund spokesperson.

Weiwei’s site-specific work, in the form of metal wire security fences, is inspired by the international migration crisis and rise in nationalism, and is particularly significant considering the Trump administration’s plan to build a $22 billion fence at the Mexican border.

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Weiwei will “explore one of society’s most urgent issues, namely the psychic and physical barriers that divide us, which is at the heart of debates about immigration and refugees today,” according to the Public Art Fund.

Weiwei studied and practiced art in the U.S. for a decade. He has worked as a sculptor, architect, filmmaker, photographer, writer and publisher to draw attention to humanitarian crises and breaches of civil liberties. In one example of his work in New York City, Weiwei filled the Jeffrey Deitch gallery with thousands of garments discarded from refugee camps.

Currently a resident of Beijing, he has been arrested, imprisoned and beaten by the Chinese government following his criticism of the country’s corruption and investigation into state cover-ups.

In 2014, Weiwei could not attend a retrospective of his work at the Brooklyn Museum because his passport was arbitrarily held by the Chinese government.


“I was an immigrant in New York in the 1980s for 10 years and the issue with the migration crisis has been a longtime focus of my practice,” Weiwei said in a statement.

“The fence has always been a tool in the vocabulary of political landscaping and evokes associations with words like ‘border,’ ‘security’ and ‘neighbor,’ which are connected to the current global political environment,” he explained. “But what’s important to remember is that while barriers have been used to divide us, as humans we are all the same. Some are more privileged than others, but with that privilege comes a responsibility to do more.”

Public Art Fund Director Nicholas Baume said that Weiwei is following in the radical tradition of artists who used the city itself as a creative platform in the ‘70s.

“The culmination of his years of experience in architectural design, art and activism, Weiwei’s variations on the theme of the fence are not only inventive and elegant formal elaborations, but also potent objects with profound resonance,” he said in a statement.

While the Public Art Fund can’t say yet how many bus shelters in Brooklyn would be transformed with Weiwei’s artwork, Downtown Brooklyn is an especially appropriate site considering Brooklyn’s large number of immigrants.

Mayor Bill de Blasio sees the project as a good fit for the city, especially at this time in history.

“New York City has long served as a gateway to the United States for millions of immigrants seeking better lives and has long benefited from their contributions and service in every neighborhood across the five boroughs. This expansive public art project that explores themes of freedom and the power of self-expression is a perfect symbol and reminder for all of us, especially in the current political climate.”

“Ai Weiwei pours his heart and soul into art that asks big questions and is not constrained by artistic and social traditions,” said NYC first lady Chirlane McCray.

Other sites for the artwork across the city include the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side, Cooper Union on Astor Place, Doris C. Freedman Plaza at Central Park and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. The exhibition runs Oct. 12, 2017 through Feb. 11, 2018.

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