Community Board to Vote on Ai Weiwei Washington Square “Good Fences” Resolution Tues. Sept. 19

Public Art Fund Rendering
Nicholas Baume, Public Art Fund

What follows is the resolution from Community Board 2 Arts & Institutions Committee and Parks Committee which held a joint meeting on September 6th to address the proposed installation of Ai Weiwei’s “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” under the Washington Square Arch from October 12, 2017 to February 11, 2018. The story was first reported at this blog.

The project came out of the gate controversial in late August – although planned out of public view for over a year – due to the lack of transparency and public involvement in the process as well as the displacement of the Christmas tree from under the Arch (a tradition since 1924), and by, what seemed to many, an inappropriate location, attaching this art work to the Arch, a landmark and iconic monument onto itself.

This statement from the C.B. 2 Committees will be voted on by the Full Community Board on Tuesday, September 19th (details at end), the public is encouraged to comment at that meeting.

Statement and Resolution from Community Board 2 Parks and Arts & Institutions Committees:

PRESENTATION BY PUBLIC ART FUND ON ITS EXHIBITION, AI WEIWEI’S GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS AND ITS PLAN TO ERECT ONE OF THE INSTALLATIONS BENEATH THE WASHINGTON SQUARE ARCH IN WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK

Public Arts Fund’s Director and Chief Curator, Nicholas Baume presented details and answered questions regarding the Ai Weiwei installation planned for beneath the Washington Square Arch in Washington Square Park as part of the citywide exhibition, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. Public Arts Fund’s mission is to make public art accessible to audiences free of charge.

The Good Fences Make Good Neighbors exhibition, which coincides with Public Art Fund’s 40th anniversary, will take place at 300+ sites city-wide from October 12, 2017 through February 18, 2018. The exhibition was created specifically for NYC and the all works are rooted to specific locations. According to Public Arts Fund’s website, the exhibition is inspired “by the international migration crisis and tense sociopolitical battles surrounding the issue in the United States and worldwide, the artist has conceived of this ambitious, multi-site project as a way of transforming the metal wire security fence into a powerful artistic symbol.”

Baume stated that City and agency outreach for the exhibition began in Summer 2016. Outreach to the CB2 community regarding the installation under the arch began in June 2017. Baume apologized for not performing community outreach sooner, but claimed that they were unable to communicate any earlier in the process because the design for Washington Square Park was not finalized. Baume assured the community that the Washington Square Park site was not an “afterthought” and stated that NYC and especially Washington Square Park were an important part of Ai Weiwei’s life; the artist lived, studied and worked in NYC for 10 years from 1983-1993. The installation beneath the arch will be 37 feet high with a 16 foot opening, allowing observers to pass through and closely engage with the piece. Baume assured the community that there will be ample margin between the sculpture and the interior of the arch – approximately 9 feet on top and 4 feet on the sides.

There was passionate testimony from the community both for and against the piece. Largely, everyone agreed that this was an important and timely work, and people were proud to have such a prominent artist and his work represented in our community, however there was profound displeasure and disappointment with the lack of transparency and community engagement surrounding the project and the late date at which the community was finally informed. Many in the community were also upset that the annual holiday tree would need to be moved from its traditional location. Public Arts Fund is beginning to meet with members of the community about relocating the tree to an amenable alternative location near the arch at Public Arts Fund’s expense.

Please see the joint committee resolution on this topic for additional details on the discussion. For more information on Public Arts Fund and the exhibition, please visit: https://www.publicartfund.org/view/exhibitions/6185_ai_weiwei_good_fences_make_good_neighbors

Respectfully submitted,
Robin Rothstein Chair, Arts & Institutions Committee Community Board 2, Manhattan
Richard A. Caccappolo Chair, Parks & Waterfront Committee Community Board 2, Manhattan

Resolution regarding the citywide public-art exhibition “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” and the installation in Washington Square Park

September 6, 2017
Whereas

1. Washington Square Park has a long history of supporting independent artists and the park, and the community at large has been at the forefront of many human rights movements;

2. Public Art Fund, with the support of the Parks Department and other relevant city agencies, will present a citywide public art exhibition of 300+ works by Ai Weiwei entitled “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” that will be on view from October 12, 2017 through February 11, 2018;

3. The public art exhibition is “inspired by the international migration crisis and current global geopolitical landscape … (and) seeks to reflect on the growing hostility toward immigrants and nationalism throughout the world … (and) will emphasize sites and locations illustrative of that theme,” according to the Public Art Fund;

4. One of the works, cited by Public Art Fund as one of the major pieces of the exhibit, will be constructed in Washington Square Park and installed underneath the Washington Square Park arch and will consist of an elaborate “fence” with a 16-ft-high opening in the outline of two embracing people, that is meant to be walked through; Ai Weiwei is a world-renowned, inventive and influential artist who lived in New York (Union Square, East Village) for ten years, part of which was spent as an art student, and hence has a connection to the area;

Below: Trevor Sumner, Washington Square Association; Elizabeth Ely, Washington Square Conservancy in foreground (she did not speak)

5. CB 2 invited Public Art Fund to a joint CB2 committee meeting where they presented to CB2’s Arts & Institutions committee and its Parks & Waterfront committee and the community its plan for the exhibition, the process it went through to obtain approvals, and which agencies gave approvals;

6. Roughly 100 people attended the meeting and nearly 60 people commented and/or posed questions to representatives from Public Art Fund. In addition, prior to the meeting, 51 letters of support (14 from organizations (citywide and local), 37 from Community Board Residents and Business Owners) and 2 letters against the installation were received by the CB2 office;

7. Public Art Fund explained that it began outreach in June, 2017, met with various community groups over the summer, listened to feedback, and has been working to address concerns. Their representative stated that they would prefer to have started this outreach process earlier, but “to do so earlier, without a design or any engineering assurances, would have been premature.” Also, it was specified that “the exhibit is Ai Weiwei’s vision; not a collective design”;

8. At the CB2 joint committee meeting, many commenters expressed enthusiastic support for the exhibition and the installation inside the arch; others strongly conveyed concern about the process: specifically, the lack of community involvement until the end of the process; the placement of the work within the Washington Square Park arch; and the disruption traditional holiday celebrations, including the Holiday Tree, which has been placed in front of the arch by the Washington Square Association each December since 1924;

9. There were questions posed and requests made to the Public Art Fund to consider moving the location of the work and to reconsider the duration of the installation, i.e., shortening it, the responses to which were that such changes were not possible;

10. The Public Art Fund began planning the citywide project and the Washington Square Park installation more than a year before the community was notified of the possibility of it occurring. City agencies, including the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, were consulted and granted approval long before any notification was provided to the community;

11. While the message of the installation is a laudable one that aligns with the values of many in the community, the placement, scale, and duration of the installation in Washington Square Park demanded more than the cursory, late-stage engagement that the City and Public Arts Fund offered to the community.

C.B. 2 Committees

Therefore be it resolved that Community Board 2, Manhattan

1. Supports the temporary installation of Ai Weiwei’s artwork in the arch of Washington Square Park, and welcomes the opportunity for our neighborhood to provide the setting for, and interact with, an exhibition of such high quality that resonates with our community’s history as a center for artistic and political innovation and

2. regards this large-scale project as a one-time, unique event and requests assurance from the City and its agencies that this project not establish a precedent for future uses of Washington Square Park and

3. demands that in the future the City and its agencies be more transparent and engage CB2 and the community earlier on in the process whenever plans are being considered for public art in our area and

4. requests that Public Art Fund continue to work with the Washington Square Association to find an alternative location for placement of the Holiday Tree and that it cover any incremental costs for placement in this alternative nearby agreed-upon location.

PASSED: 13 FOR, 2 AGAINST, 1 ABSTAINED

Against: Rocio Sanz (Full Board member) and Sharon Woolums (Public Member).

Abstained: Georgia Silvera Seamans (Full Board member)

* * *
NOTE: COMMUNITY BOARD 2 FULL BOARD MEETING WHERE VOTE WILL BE TAKEN ON THIS RESOLUTION, The public is encouraged to attend and speak:

Date: Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Time: 6:30 PM

Location: Scholastic Building, 557 Broadway, Auditorium

THE PUBLIC SESSION BEGINS AT 6:30 PM. SPEAKER’S CARDS WILL BE NOT BE ACCEPTED AFTER 7:00 PM.

INDIVIDUALS WHO CANNOT ATTEND ARE INVITED TO SUBMIT WRITTEN TESTIMONY IN ADVANCE TO THE BOARD OFFICE.  WRITTEN TESTIMONY WILL BE PLACED INTO THE RECORD.

Photos: Cathryn

Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

Community Opposition to Ai Weiwei’s Planned “Fences” Installation Under Washington Square Arch

Community Board Meeting on Ai Weiwei’s Proposed “Fences” Installation Under Washington Sq Arch Sept. 6 Details

3 thoughts on “Community Board to Vote on Ai Weiwei Washington Square “Good Fences” Resolution Tues. Sept. 19

  1. Meaningful public consultation did not have to wait for the final physical design of the artwork to be ready — the Funds’ explanation for waiting until the last minute for entertaining feedback.

    Clearly, the duration of the work, and for WSP the placement and scale were issues utterly independent of the final design that could have had public input during the several years of project development. Years.

    The usual consequence of a major falsehood presented on an application for use of public resources would be summary rejection of the proposal. But politically the fund has achieved its goal of advancing the process so far that they escape this consequence.

    In the future I think the artist should insist that institutions assisting him be more ethical.

  2. It saddens me to see that we are giving such prominent space to an over-rated kitschy bird-cage, that, like many of Ai Weiwei’s artworks, is blunt and lacks artistic sensibility, despite the artist’s well-intentioned political message.

    Besides, one has to question if these gigantic bird cages or other “fences” that will be on display in many parts of our city, are manufactured in Chinese factories with poor conditions – the artist has openly admitted that he has hired a large number of crafts people and workers in China, where they design and produce his “conceptual” artworks that are being sold or on display in the West. In this sense, Ai Weiwei is no different from many American toy makers and his bird cage is nothing more than a piece of cheap Chinese toy on a larger scale. For supporters of his installation, this should stand as a stark reminder of our poor taste.

    This article helps shed some lights on Ai Weiwei’s art.

    https://newrepublic.com/article/112218/ai-wei-wei-wonderful-dissident-terrible-artist

  3. The war against Christmas goes on, this politically motivated piece of crap will displace the oldest annual Christmas tree in New York City. The Washington Square Christmas Tree predates the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Shame on Community Board 2 Manhattan and the Mayor’s Office no feedback from community for this built-to-fit birdcage. What a shame.

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