Ai Wei-what? Straphangers confuse artist’s sculpture for chair, wind barrier

It’s art!: People are confusing this new Ai Weiwei installation at a Fulton Street bus stop for a place to sit.
Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

This art’s purpose is in the eye of its beholder.

Bus riders praised the sculpture that a famed Chinese artist recently installed at a Downtown stop, but not for its intended statement on the global refugee crisis. Straphangers instead lauded Ai Weiwei’s chain-link structure for the curved portion near its bottom, where they said they can park their butts as they wait for the people movers to pull up.

“It’s good because if there’s no seat at the bus stop I’ll surely go and rest there,” said Bushwick resident Gloria Evans, who was waiting for a bus at Fulton and Smith streets. “It definitely serves a purpose.”

Weiwei erected the pieces at four bus stops in Brooklyn as part of his city-wide “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” public-art project, which consists of sculptures, banners, and posters designed to draw attention to the millions of people forced out of their countries around the world.

The installations include the fence-like sculpture, which stands behind the stops’ glass shelters, as well as a poster with images of refugees beneath a banner sporting the project’s name, both of which hang where advertisements are usually plastered.

But Evans said the world-renowned activist’s work didn’t immediately make her think of asylum-seekers, although she did see some resemblance to a wall in her new sculptural seat.

“Just looking at it, that’s not what comes to mind but I guess it could represent a barrier,” she said. “It does look beautiful though.”

Another rider was surprised to learn that the piece behind her wasn’t an avant-garde spot to lounge in, too.

“I wouldn’t think it’s art, I thought it was something to sit on,” Linda Wade said before hopping on a B38 bus.

The perforated structure, which will be up until February, could also help block wind in colder months, according to another woman, who said that even though the sculpture has holes, straphangers need every buffer they can get come wintertime.

“I think it will keep the wind off, which is good, because sitting here in the winter it gets mighty cold,” said Crystal Milan. “It won’t do that much because there are holes in it, but you still need as much coverage as you can get.”

Check out Ai Weiwei’s other bus stop interventions at Fulton and Bond streets, Smith and Livingston streets, and Joralemon Street and Boerum Place. Through Feb. 11. Free.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 5:53 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. from Bed-Stuy says:
Looks could be always deceiving: A piece of art is worth a thousand words in a public setting like this.
Oct. 16, 2017, 8:35 am
Tyler from pps says:
It's clearly a failed effort -- it's looks like a decorative addition to the bus shelter. Period. Though, a nice one.

As the folks quoted said, it didn't evoke anything about refugees... "Oh, now that you tell me, umm... I guess... maybe it could be..."

It's a shame, because it's an important topic to bring awareness to.

(By the way, failed effort isn't some sort of forever damning criticism. this particular piece didn't work as intended. artists should keep doing what they do! And, Hey, and if this actually worked and elicited the intended response from 3 people, that's more than 0. Art with an explicit "intent" is always a tough one.)
Oct. 16, 2017, 12:40 pm
Kate from Brooklyn Heights says:
Apparently a bus shelter would have been more useful than this Chinese scammer's over-priced fence. Remember, this is a man who is banned from buying legos!
Oct. 17, 2017, 6:41 am
K. from ArKady says:
The following anecdote from the artist fairly sums up the man and his work.

"But by 2011, I was kidnapped in the airport, been put a black hood over my face and taken to a secret location. And in that location, I was kind of jailed, but it’s like a military base, for 81 days. 'Til now, nobody knows where this location is. And two soldiers would stand in front of me, you know, the kind of military soldiers, about 80 centimeters away. They would look at me like this and stand still and, you know, doesn't make any kind of move, day and night, 24 hours a day. And even when I sleep or when I take a shower or go to toilets, they also have to stand right in front of me. And now, I’ve been going through about 50 interrogations. The crime they accused me is subversion of state power, so which is the biggest crime you can commit in China. And yeah, that’s what happened.

After I came out, many people questioned me on how—what it’s like being in that kind of condition. So, I found out language is very difficult to describe it, so I made an exact same situation in a sculpture, or installation. And every detail fits exactly like the reality.Nobody can photograph it. My phone was being taken away. And even police think I have some photos of the location, because they couldn’t believe I can make the situation so real. I told them, “You know, you’re dealing with an artist.” So I memorized all the details in the room."
Oct. 17, 2017, 4:20 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I never understood what is so special about this art. I just see it as nothing more than some fancy fence and nothing more. Then again, that's probably just me saying that. On a side note, I was never found of the Gates of Central Park either, plus I doubt anyone would want to walk in the cold weather to see those either unless they were that important, and the same for those fake East River waterfalls that were nothing but pipes shooting out water that were around as well at one time.
Oct. 17, 2017, 4:35 pm
Tyler from pps says:
Tal - To be fair, there are A LOT of things that you don't understand.
Oct. 18, 2017, 3:04 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Tyler, I'm sorry that I don't have the same taste in art that you have. However, I am entitled to my opinion on this art just like you are to. I just tend to see these fences as overrated and that's how I feel about it. Nonetheless, I have nothing against those who do like this nor am I stopping them from liking it let alone stopping it from appearing anywhere. Overall, I have nothing against those who disagree with me on how they view this art or anything else in that matter just as long as I'm not attacked for stating my view on it.
Oct. 18, 2017, 3:44 pm
Tyler from pps says:
Why are you such an anti-art zealot Tal? You should stop Hamasing us.
Oct. 19, 2017, 9:40 am

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: