Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

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Park Ave btw E 82 & 83 St

Ai Weiwei’s citywide exhibition uses existing elements of urban infrastructure as platforms for public art. Lamppost banners display a series of 200 portraits of immigrants and refugees. Unlike typical printed advertisements, the artist created unique double-sided banner portraits by cutting black vinyl to make images appear in the portions that remain. Their play of positive and negative space is analogous to the often-ambiguous status of refugees and migrants. The series encompasses many groups by spanning several periods and locales. It includes historic images from Ellis Island, photographs of notable refugees, formal portraits by Ai Weiwei’s studio from the Shariya camp in Iraq, and the artist’s cell phone photographs taken at refugee camps and national borders around the world. The banners portray people from varied backgrounds, yet each is presented in a consistent format, emphasizing their shared humanity.

This banner depicts Béla Bartók (1881-1945, b. Nagyszentmiklós, the Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary), the Hungarian pianist and composer whose arrangements are considered some of the most important of the 20th century. Bartók’s anti-fascist political views caused him to strongly oppose Hungary’s siding with Germany when the Nazis came to power, refusing to give concerts there. His political views continued to create trouble with Hungary’s government, eventually forcing him to reluctantly emigrate to the United States, where he settled in New York and lived the rest of his life.

Photographer: Unknown, Date: 1927, Copyright: Public Domain.

Courtesy of the artist.

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