In advance of its scheduled unveiling in New York in October, a citywide project by Ai Weiwei has met with opposition from the Washington Square Association, which issued a statement last week urging the Public Art Fund, the presenter of the work, to withdraw a proposal for a sculpture in Washington Square Park. To be positioned under the 125-year-old Washington Square Arch, the work is part of “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” a series of works and interventions devised by Ai for locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. The project (the subject of a feature in the upcoming Fall issue of ARTnews) alludes to structures that appear between borders and takes issues of immigration as its theme.
Last Friday, Trevor Sumner, the president of the Washington Square Association, issued a statement against the installation in the downtown park on the grounds that it would interfere with an annual Christmas tree ceremony, that it would mar the arch with politicized art, and, lastly, that the project was not designed with sufficient neighborhood collaboration. Sumner requested that the Public Art Fund “withdraw its plans” for the installation and added, “The feedback of the community in such a long-standing and disruptive project should have been more intrinsic to the process, which an organization such as the Public Arts [sic] Fund should know given its history.”
Today, the Public Art Fund’s president, Susan Freedman, issued a statement to ARTnews in response. “We have been meeting with community boards and neighborhood groups throughout the spring and summer, including with Community Board 2, the Washington Square Park Conservancy, and the organization of which Mr. Sumner serves as president, the Washington Square Park [sic] Association,” Freedman wrote. “Recognizing the importance of community engagement, we reached out to Mr. Sumner on July 18, had a follow-up call on July 26, and a recent in-person meeting with him in Washington Square Park on Aug 14. On behalf of the community, Sumner expressed excitement about bringing the project to Washington Square Park and we have been in close dialogue with him to ensure that the tradition of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony moves ahead without interruption.”
Freedman continued: “We have been on the schedule to present to the Community Board meeting next week, to hear feedback and respond to questions. 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.”