Last March Ai Weiwei presented a new project titled Good Fences Make Good Neighbours, to be financed by the Public Art Fund. The artist explained that in October 2017 he wanted to install some 300 fences in key points in New York City. What was their purpose? To denounce the “nationalism” that had been gaining ground since the election of Donald Trump and to make reference to the migrant crisis and its causes.

More than a month before the installation of the fences, an association in the district of Greenwich Village has stated its dissatisfaction with the plan. One of the fences was to be erected beneath the famous arch in the Village’s Washington Square Park.

The Washington Square Association published an open letter explaining the reasons for its discontent. Several arguments were put forward: the fence would prevent the installation of the district’s annual Christmas tree; it would spoil the harmony of the arch; and it run counter to the district’s spirit as the Village’s inhabitants had not been consulted. “The feedback of the community in such a long-standing and disruptive project should have been more intrinsic to the process”.

The local residents ended their statement by explaining that they had nothing against the work itself, nor against the message it was advancing but that they did not approve the fence’s location beneath the arch. A representative of the Public Art Fund responded in the pages of The Gothamist that several meetings had in fact been held with local organisations.

The argument will not upset Ai Weiwei, however, who explained recently in Vulture that the purpose of art in the public space was to generate a discussion with the local inhabitants.

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