Somebody’s Watching You

Ai Weiwei, Jacques Herzog, and Pierre de Meuron take on the surveillance state in the scarily immersive “Hansel & Gretel.”

Photo by James Ewing

We’ve all been more aware of Big Brother in recent years, especially since Edward Snowden exposed the details of the NSA’s spying on average Americans in 2013. But a new, immersive art installation—Hansel & Gretel, at the Park Avenue Armory—aims to show you just how creepy the surveillance state can be.

The installation is a collaboration between renowned Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who have designed numerous high-profile stadiums and museums around the world. The three have transformed the Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall—a 200-by-300-foot space with a soaring vaulted roof used for military exercises in the 19th century—into a dark, insidious environment where you’ll be watched by drones and infrared cameras.

After being held illegally in a Chinese jail, “Weiwei has the direct experience of being watched 24-7,” says Pierre Audi, the Armory’s artistic director. “This project provokes pressing questions about the right to privacy in a hyper-monitored world,” adds Rebecca Robertson, executive producer and president of the Armory. In other words, this is no fairy tale.

Afterward, you can step into the Head House, where you’ll become the observer, viewing the footage of your journey. There’s no need for breadcrumbs—à la Hansel and Gretel—in today’s world; you couldn’t hide your path if you tried.

Photo by James Ewing

Why You Should Go: It’s rare to see an immersive collaboration between a world-class artist and world-class architects—let alone in a space as impressively huge as this historic drill hall.

Hansel & Gretel
Wednesday, June 7–Sunday, August 6
Park Avenue Armory
643 Park Avenue (between East 66th and 67th Streets), Upper East Side
$15; free for Armory members

This exhibition is going to require a little bit of analysis…so why not do it over tea and cocktails?