Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

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Washington Square North & 5 Ave

Ai often visited Washington Square Park when he lived nearby in the 1980s, drawn to its vitality as a hub for creative and political expression. His 37-foot-tall steel cage echoes the iconic form of the marble arch, which commemorates George Washington leading the nation toward democracy. While seeming to create an obstruction, Ai opens a passageway through its center in the silhouette of two united figures. Visitors are able to pass through, reflected in an undulating ribbon of polished stainless steel. Their outline takes its form from Marcel Duchamp’s 1937 Door for Gradiva, created to frame the entrance to Andre Breton’s art gallery in Paris. This is fitting reference to the immigrant conceptual artist since Duchamp used to play chess in Washington Square Park, and once notoriously made his way to the top of the park’s arch with a group of other bohemian poets and artists. There, they spread out blankets, hung Chinese lanterns, tied red balloons to the arch’s parapet, declaring it the “Free and Independent Republic of Washington Square,” and conversed and caroused until dawn. This subtle homage to Duchamp highlights how influential he has been for Ai, who also often appropriates existing forms and materials to make his artworks. It is also a fitting tribute to the figure who has had an enormous impact on many immigrant artists in the years since, who have in turn made New York the hub of world culture that it is today.

Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio/ Frahm & Frahm.

Photo: Jason Wyche.


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