Ruins of the 1968 Worlds Fair in Flushing Meaders Corona Park in Queens, New York.
Our recent trek to see all of Ai Weiwei’s installations brought us here for the first time in a long time. You can read and see more in our review our video.
This fall and winter in New York featured an ambitious citywide art project by Ai Weiwei called Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. Through fences, cages, netting and other forms of “barrier”, Ai Weiwei well-known landmarks as well as quintessentially “New York” locations into expressions of global migration – a complex phenomenon that includes refugee crises around the world as well as the fights for and against immigration in our own country. While the large installations at Washington Square and Central Park perhaps get the most attention, they are also scattered in smaller locations that are part of daily life in the city. We at CatSynth attempted to track down all the major installations and compiled our experiences into this video.
The large sculptural pieces in Washington Square Park and Grand Army Plaza at the corner of Central Park were the most impressive as iconic.
[Grand Army Plaza / Central Park]
The cage at Grand Army Plaza is quite literal, an easily identified barrier between those in the cage and the rest of the city going about its business outside. Of course, one can freely enter and exit this cage at will. The mirrored piece that fills the Washington Square Arch is more abstract, with the silhouettes of human figures forming a welcoming portal in the midst of an imposing fence. This one was the most aesthetically beautiful for me, with its play on reflections and light from the surrounding city.
[Washington Square Arch]
Many smaller installations were scattered around the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood long associated with immigration and new arrivals to the United States. Indeed, the European Jewish side of my family settled in this neighborhood in the early 20th century, so it holds particular significance.
One could be forgiven for overlooking some of these (though the Essex Street Market installation is quite large). In fact, one at East 7th Street was just a narrow fence in the space between two apartment buildings. It took me a couple of minutes to locate it. And business at the boutiques and cafes at ground level went ahead seemingly oblivious.
We also made it to some of the installations in other boroughs, including the one surrounding the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens.
[Unisphere – Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens]
The Unisphere is one of the remaining ruins from the 1968 Worlds Fair and with its positive (albeit cynical) message of global and international solidarity, its an apt setting for reflecting on the current migration crises and increasing nationalism worldwide. The borough of Queens has also involved since 1968 to become one of the most diverse places in the world.
And no artistic journey through the would be complete without Brooklyn. Fulton Mall – a section of Fulton Street closed to form a pedestrian mall and bus corridor – was the site of a series of installations adding fencing to some of the bus stops.
[Fulton Mall, Brooklyn]
Downtown Brooklyn has become an important part of my own experience of New York in the past decade, and it seems fitting to end here, where older discount stores and new high-rise condo buildings collide. We will have to see how this ultimately plays out…
We end in the Bronx, where this billboard on the Deegan Expressway may not be part of the official presentation, but it made for a fitting conclusion.
[Deegan Expressway (I-87), The Bronx]
Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors will be on display through February 18, 2018. You can read more about the project and its many locations here.
A rare vacant lot with graffiti and older facades amidst the booming construction in Long Island City, Queens, New York. How long will it last?
Returning to San Francisco from New York often involves a highway trip to JFK Airport, and there is one spot along the Van Wyck Expressway (I-678) that is almost always guaranteed to come to standstill, the Kew Gardens Interchange:
The Van Wyck Expressway runs vertically in this picture, from the center top to the center bottom. The Grand Central Parkway runs from the upper left to the center right. The Jackie Robinson Parkway runs from the lower left to the interchange where it ends at the Grand Central Parkway. The Union Turnpike runs along either side of the parkway. Finally, the main surface thoroughfare through Queens, Queens Boulevard (NY 25) is in the lower left corner.
One doesn’t really see the complexity of this interchange from the road, just a series of exits in quick succession (or not so quick when one is barely moving), and in fact that it seems like the Van Wyck is merging into another, narrower road at the end, before the reassuring signs that one is still on the right road to the airport. It often seems like many of the larger highways in New York are really stitched together from older, smaller, highways.
This interchange was featured on Empire State Roads, with more information and images.
I have been on the parkways as well of course. The Jackie Robinson Parkway winds its way narrowly towards Brookyln through parks and near several cemeteries. I have relatives who reside in at least one of them.