On Saturday afternoon, October 7th, for a couple of hours, the controversial Ai Weiwei exhibit at Washington Square Park, “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” installed under the Arch recently yet gated off, an art project that has already stirred up controversy and some anger amidst park users, proving not to be the best neighbor, opened up its gates so the Public Art Fund could get official photos for their promotional efforts of people walking through. WSP Blog was there.
A Public Art Fund employee told me that any controversy that ensued was about “one or two neighbors,” basically all from the Washington Square Association in this person’s view, which sounded like it was also the Public Art Fund official line. People following this blog, which first broke the story, and other media, know that that is not the case.
Significant issues around lack of public engagement and the fact that the private Public Art Fund waited to announce the Arch as one of the 300 city wide locations at the last minute. The organization, just a few months prior, invited a few community groups to inform them that this was coming (including Community Board 2 chairs) but insisted they keep meetings confidential (note: they did not have to agree). One of the major issues is whether the Arch, a destination itself, a landmark, a historic monument, should be engulfed by other art, when already it is art. Of course, when opened up on Saturday, people wanted to go through, as they walk under the Arch too, but what stood out to me is that you don’t feel as if you are in cage or bound by a fence when you walk through, it is more like, ‘oh shiny walls.’ You cannot see the cage when you are walking through.
At the Community Board 2 meeting in early September, Trevor Sumner of the Washington Square Association said that the Public Art Fund would be using the Arch as the main attraction of the entire city wide project, and the fact that today there is a “Public Preview” of “Good Fences” AT Washington Square Park does confirm this.
Perhaps they might have considered another location, in light of the controversy and tensions. But the Arch is the Arch, and you will see why they wanted this location so much once this opens. The Parks Department, particularly Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro, knew that many neighbors, park users and protectors would not like this idea, so he, in all likelihood, coached them to do this in this non transparent way, also knowing that the Community Board would be fairly compliant. (More on that to come.) At the Community Board meeting on September 6th, Commissioner Castro attended, but, notably, did not speak or make any public comment about the project.
The full Community Board 2 voted 26 in favor, 8 against, on the Parks Committee/Arts & Institutions resolution which tries to make this a one time thing, critiques the process, and, in my opinion, leaves out of the Resolution the most important part – that the Arch is a destination and a landmark onto itself; that was the main point that people wanted registered as to why the exhibit should not happen, as well as not wanting the park/public space to become used for art projects repeatedly ever after, thereby setting a precedent.
The exhibit is scheduled to remain under the Arch from October 12, 2017 through February 11, 2018.
More to come at this blog on the “process” that led to all this.
Excerpt from Community Board 2 Resolution:
“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.”
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.
Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:
All photos by Cathryn
except last image: Public Art Fund