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

Ai Wei-what? Straphangers confuse artist’s sculpture for chair, wind barrier
Community News Group / Anthony Rotunno

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 lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Or is it?: The sculpture, which recalls a chain-link fence, also reminded some bus riders of a wind-blocking barrier.
Community News Group / Anthony Rotunno