A rendering of Ai Weiwei’s work beneath the Washington Square Arch. Illustration: Public Art Fund.

New York’s Greenwich Village Residents Speak Out Against Ai Weiwei Public Art Project

Jake Offenhartz of The Gothamist writes that Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Association is upset over the installation of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s public art exhibition “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” a display of security-fence works that will be installed around New York’s five boroughs. The massive installation, created to examine the “migration crisis and current global geopolitical landscape,” was commissioned by the Public Art Fund to celebrate its fortieth anniversary.

The Greenwich Village portion of the exhibition will be installed under the Washington Square Arch from October 12, 2017, until February 11, 2018. Trevor Sumner, the president of the Washington Square Association, said, “The community feedback [to the project] was almost universally negative.” Sumner went on to say that the work will intrude upon the annual tree-lighting ceremony beneath the arch, and that the artist’s gesture could set a “dangerous precedent as far as taking an artistic work and decorating it for a political purpose, especially for months at a time.”

A representative for the Public Art Fund called Sumner’s description of the work “grossly inaccurate,” stating that the organization met with a number of local groups—such as the Washington Square Park Conservancy, Community Board Two, and the Washington Square Park Association—over the last several months to discuss the project.

“I think public art is in the public domain. It belongs to the people who use the city’s facilities. It is open to discussion and to the public's concerns. It will be successful for public art in an open society to generate that discourse and it can make a difference on an aesthetic, moral, and philosophical level,” said Ai of the controversy surrounding his project.