The Washington Square Arch may look a little different the next time you swing by.
A large sculpture mainly made up of fencing is being installed, filling the space underneath the iconic arch. The sculpture is part of a citywide exhibition titled “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” by artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei.
Pulling inspiration from the “international migration crisis and current global geopolitical landscape,” Weiwei uses security fencing to create “a powerful social and artistic symbol,” according to the Public Art Fund, which is presenting the exhibition in celebration of its 40th anniversary.
The Washington Square Arch sculpture is one of three site-specific, large-scale installations that are being put up around the city by the Public Art Fund. There will also be installations at Doris C. Freedman Plaza in Central Park and the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens.
“Each of the works will grow out of the existing urban infrastructure, using the fabric of the city as its base and drawing attention to the role of the fence in dividing people. In doing so, the artist highlights how this form, ubiquitous yet also potent, can alter how we perceive and relate to our environment,” the Public Art Fund said in a news release.
The scope of Weiwei’s exhibition grows even wider with smaller installations planned on or near private buildings at 48 E. 7th St., 189 Chrystie St., 248 Bowery and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art at Astor Place, as well as a series of flag pole-mounted works at Essex Street Market and sculptures around 10 bus shelters. Weiwei also created 200 banners that will be spread out on lampposts across the five boroughs, according to the Public Art Fund.
The concept of the exhibition was not a random choice for Weiwei, who has felt the effects of displacement personally. When he was a child growing up in the Cultural Revolution in China, his father, a renowned poet, was branded an enemy of the state and his family was forced to move to Shihezi in the Xinjiang Province. Weiwei moved to New York City in the 1980s to study western modern and contemporary art.
After moving back to China in 1993, Weiwei gained notoriety for his use of social media and his art to talk about political issues facing the country. He was arrested by the Chinese government and detained for a time in 2011, only returning to the world stage after his passport was reinstated in 2015.
“Ai Weiwei is unique in having combined the roles of preeminent contemporary artist, political dissident and human rights activist in such a prominent and powerful way,” said Public Art Fund Director & Chief Curator Nicholas Baume. “In many ways, ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbors’ is the culmination of his work to date.”
The citywide exhibition is set to begin on Thursday, Oct. 12 and run through Feb. 11.