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Ai Weiwei
via RCA

New York residents protest Ai Weiwei’s latest installation

A community group has taken issue with Good Fences Make Good Neighbours for politicising their archway and hindering Christmas tree lighting

Ai Weiwei has faced a lot of challenges in his life and career: censorship and confinement by the Chinese government, backlash to controversial and provocative art projects surrounding the refugee crisis. This time however, Ai is up against a local residents group in New York who really, really don’t want his latest installation in their neighbourhood.

The forthcoming Good Fences Make Good Neighbours, commissioned by the Public Art Fund for its 40th anniversary, will see 300 pieces responding to the themes of borders and immigrations placed in five NY boroughs. The installation in question, in the archway of Washington Square park, will form a large cage inside the arch, and is scheduled to be erected from October 12, staying until February. The politically-charged piece comes just as Trump seeks to access funds for a wall on the Mexican border.

The Washington Square Association, a local residents group, is challenging the planned installation in Washington Square park’s archway. Complaints say that it would disrupt annual Christmas celebrations, and would compromise the archway’s own art. Residents claim that though the largescale art project was announced in March, the Public Art Fund only informed the group four weeks ago, meaning there has been little opportunity to raise concerns. A general statement from the group added that the arch would be hindered by politicised art, and that it had not been designed for sufficient community collaboration.

“This installation sets a dangerous precedent that one of New York City’s most recognised monuments and pieces of art can be decorated and co-opted for four months at a time,” the Association’s president Trevor Sumner, wrote in an open letter to the Public Art Fund.

“It’s ironic that the installation is called Good Neighbours,” Sumner told the New York Times. As the NYT reports, another residents group in Manhattan was consulted about the project.

According to the Public Art Fund director and chief curator Nicholas Baume, members of the local community had been contacted, along with city officials and local authorities. He told the NYT that every other community group had been enthusiastic about the project, adding that the Fund would pay to relocate the Washington Square park Christmas tree and meet later this month to answer questions.

The president of the Public Art Fund, Susan Freedman, told Artnews that “the vital qualities of community and open engagement that Washington Square Park embodies are among the characteristics that make it an ideal location for this important exhibition that brings to light a powerful statement about division and separation at a global, national, local, and personal level.”

“We are witnessing a rise in nationalism, an increase in the closure of borders, and an exclusionary attitude toward migrants and refugees, the victims of war and the casualties of globalisation,” Ai previously said about the project.

h/t New York Times