Public Art Fund Brings Artist and Activist Ai Weiwei to New York

View of the sky through the Gilded Cage (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Sponsored by the Public Art Fund, an expansive Ai Weiwei installation was on display in New York City in the winter of 2018.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors was a public art project conceptualized by Beijing-born, artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei, and curated by Public Art Fund Director Nicholas Baume.

The multimedia installation included over 300 works spread across the city’s five boroughs. Weiwei called New York City the perfect home for a project like this because the city is such a meld of different cultures.

The art included banners, sculptures and fences; the works were strategically placed in public spaces like parks, atop private buildings, at transportation sites, near monuments, and on lampposts.

Public Art Fund: Ai Weiwei's Gilded Cage in Central Park (Credit: Jerome Levine)
Ai Weiwei’s Gilded Cage in Central Park (Credit: Jerome Levine)

This provocative project questions the assumption made by poet Robert Frost in Mending Fences, that fences make for better relationships. Instead, drawing upon his own life experiences as an immigrant and his many visits to refugee camps with fences around the world, Weiwei suggests that fences, walls and other barriers are socially divisive, often stoking fear and prejudice.

The timing of this installation couldn’t have been more relevant as our nation struggles with political and social issues of borders and migration.

With more than 400 installations under its belt, New York City’s Public Art Fund has worked for more than four decades to make art accessible both to New Yorkers and to the many visitors who arrive here.

This spectacular undertaking might have been one of the most ambitious to-date.

The Gilded Cage

We visited the “Gilded Cage” at the southeast entrance to Central Park.

Central Park looking south (Credit: Andrew Levine)
A cloudy day at Central Park looking south (Credit: Andrew Levine)

Visitors are actually able to enter the gold/orange-colored structure, which is surrounded by bars and turnstiles.

Public Art Fund: View of the sky through the Gilded Cage (Credit: Jerome Levine)
View of the sky through the Gilded Cage (Credit: Jerome Levine)

“Functioning as a structure of both control and display, the work reveals the complex power dynamics of repressive architecture,” notes Weiwei in the written program developed for the installation.

Navigating the Public Art Fund installation

It’s far easier to visit the project on the web than it is to see all of it in person. An interactive map describes each of the works (in 11 different languages) and places them on a map of the city. If you click on a specific listed work, you can read about its history, meaning and obtain directions via Google Maps.

While the experience of seeing the works in person amidst other visitors is extremely powerful, the logistics of seeing them all (or many of them) at once can be complicated.

Distances between them can be great (sometimes entailing crossing bridges) and traffic is reliably formidable in New York.

Check out this powerful video on Vimeo describing “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.”

Previously on More Time To Travel:

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  1. I love art in public places! It always makes us stop in our tracks to have a look, and it always gets us thinking outside ourselves. In particular, I appreciated your commentary in this post about how fences and boundaries can sometimes stir up fear and prejudice. Very timely, for sure!

  2. How fantastic that New York City’s Public Art Fund has made such a significant contribution to the city’s public spaces. The choice of Ai Weiwei for the latest installation(s) is especially timely given the current political climate around the world.

  3. That gilded cage looks fantastic.
    How wonderful to be able to see Ai Weiwei’s work in New York City – to just be able to go for a walk and see this. It’s heartening to know public art is so valued.

  4. I have been a fan of Ai Weiwei for a long time. This is the first I’ve heard about this project. Love that gilded cage. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be back in NYC any time soon. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  5. I love these type of displays they really make people think outside of the square and see something from another person’s perspective. Weiwei has a way of capturing people’s interest and getting sensitive messages across in the perfect way.

  6. We also think fences, walls and other barriers are socially divisive, as Weiwei believes. In Johannesburg, while walking in one of the affluent areas, we were struck by all the high fences with electric barb wire and big signs saying “Warning: Armed Response.” It made us a little anxious — of the city, of the people…

    We love city neighborhoods where people have big front porches and they sit out there with their coffee or whatever, smiling at passersby. It’s all much more friendly and neighborly :-).

    This new public art installation in NY looks interesting! Always good to get people questioning and talking…

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