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

Another location of "Fences"
Another location of “Fences”

The story first reported at this blog about local community group and community members asking the Public Art Fund to “withdraw its plans” for artist and activist Ai Wewei’s proposed “large-scale,” long-term “Fences” installation under the Washington Square Arch received a lot of pick up!

New York Times, Gothamist, Curbed and more followed up on the story reported here on opposition to the planned 50-foot-high “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” installation under the Arch, which would remain from October 12 to February 11.

Community Board 2 will be holding a joint meeting of its Parks Committee and Arts & Institution Committee on Wednesday, September 6th at 6:30 p.m. at Judson Church. Members of Community Board 2 were consulted in advance, and, according to the Public Art Fund, were in favor of the project and location.

Washington Square Park was recently announced as a location, one of 300 sites throughout the 5 boroughs.

Reasons outlined in a letter from community group, Washington Square Association, around since 1906, include:

no community input on project; four months blocking off Arch/public Space; will lead to cancelling Annual Arch Tree Lighting Ceremony (a tradition since 1924) – the statement goes into more detail about the Arch itself calling it “a work of art in itself” which “does not need to be politicized,” and that the “installation sets a dangerous precedent that one of New York City’s most recognized monuments and pieces of art can be decorated and co-opted for 4 months at a time.”

It is not about opposition to art or the artist but it brings up questions, including:

What is right for a (this) public park and what is the public process by which these decisions are made?

WSP Blog got the details for you of the Community Board meeting so you can mark your calendars and attend!

Meeting of Community Board 2 Parks Committee & Arts and Institutions Committee

Wednesday, September 6th 6:30 p.m.

1. Update from the New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation on the progress of the LGBT Memorial work planned for the Hudson River Park.

2. Presentation of the Public Art Fund’s city-wide exhibition, Ai Weiwei’s Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, including the plans to erect one of the installations at the Washington Square Arch in Washington Square Park.

Location: Judson Church, Assembly Hall, 239 Thompson Street off Washington Square South

Will be writing more next on the outreach for the project and who was consulted prior to it being announced.

Proposed installation under Arch
Proposed installation under Arch

Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

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

Top Photo: Ai Weiwei Studio
Bottom Photo: Public Art Fund

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

  1. Considering the WSA goes back to 1909, and this will be the 93rd annual Christmas Tree lighting in Washington Square – the oldest tree lighting traditions in the City – I’m surprised the WSA wasn’t the first to be consulted. Maybe the Fund for Public Art decided not to ask questions they didn’t want the answer to?

    Washington Square has eight other entrances but this is the only one that’s home to these traditional events including but not limited to the Christmas Tree, its lighting, Christmas Caroling and a visit from Santa.

    In an age when the Village is bombarded with mega events, like the Halloween Parade which often overflows into Washington Square, and draws over two million spectators, or disruptive events like SantaCon, it’s nice to have community events, organized by people who live in the community. Like other park events, it’s open to anyone who wants to participate and regularly draws a good sized crowd. 

    I haven’t seen the list of 300 locations but I wonder if Weiwei would expect to move the Christmas Tree lighting away from Grand Army Plaza, in Brooklyn, or Rockefeller Center to move their Christmas tree to accommodate one of his installations.

    Seriously, after 90 years of Christmas trees under the arch the WSA should have the right of first refusal instead of having to fight for their contributions to the community.

  2. Thanks, Stacy, for this insightful and spot on comment. That is so true that no one would expect the tree to move from Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn or Rockefeller Center.

    I also think that when they went around asking these organizations (unclear Wash Sq conservancy role, but even Wash Sq Association and CB2), is that really going to give true public representation? Not being critical of them, just reality. Bringing it to a CB2 meeting after announcing the location, with much fanfare, to the media, seems a bit backward.

    What should the process be? The Parks Dept higher ups obviously gave their approval and then almost threw Public Art Fund under the bus by not suggesting a different process at Washington Square Park … at least that is one way I see it.

    Thanks again.


  3. I have not been following the decision process about this public work so my comment is only about how I feel about having this art piece in the park. That being said, I think public art is needed now more than even before. I have huge respect for Ai Wewei and have been following his work for years now. I would be thrilled and honored to have his work in our community for a few months. I have lived here my whole life and, while the tree is absolutely lovely, I would fine with forgoing an one this year. This isn’t permanent. I understand traditions but sometimes a little change is good, especially at a time when so much arts funding and education is being cut back. I am all for this installation.

  4. What has happened here with this planning, virtuous as the artist is, is unfortunate.

    The exhibit should have been set up for a few weeks, not four months, and in maybe 50 locations, not hundreds.

    A few weeks is one more expression of free speech and artistic grace, in alignment with many historical uses of the parks by the communities involved. 95% of the PR effectiveness towards the idea of “fences in the world” would have been met.

    One would imagine there are many artists worthy of contemplation in a park setting, occasionally. This planning process, however, laden as it is with art professionals, park art curators, etc., and embedded in a private world of “public art” studies and concepts that institutional art should be seen by as many people as possible, seems to have gotten out of control in the amount of park time and locations they want and are granted for a single project.

    Notwithstanding any attempts to label objections at this point as “local community group says NIMBY”, there is a strong case to be made for future decisions like this to be absolutely permanently changed so as to compel early public input.

    Early public input on this project would have balanced the expansive ambitions of art professionals against the desires of the public for use of their parks, by reining in the scale and duration of the project to a more balanced situation. It would have allowed some airing of what it implies to allow such installations to continue growing to such a proposed scale as a permanent part of the use of parks.

    Just wait and see what people think about the arch being filled with metal after four months. How much more effective and attractive a couple weeks would have been.


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