“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” is an idiom that only takes a little bit of thought to understand. The idea is that knowing where to draw a boundary makes it easy to keep relationships friendly. It is also the title of Ai Weiwei’s large-scale public art project, coming to New York City this autumn.
The Chinese artist intends to build more than 100 fences and fence-like installations scattered all over the city. There will be ten major installations and many smaller works. The fences will be in varied, architectural shapes, with many kinds of doors to allow visitors to interact with them.
“This is the most ambitious that we’ve undertaken since I’ve been here,” said Nicholas Baume in an interview with the New York Times. Baume is the director of the Public Art Fund, which is backing the exhibition as part of their year-long 40th anniversary celebration.
Mr. Ai has said that this work, while superficially appearing to be a blatant statement for reinforcing borders in today’s political environment, is in fact the opposite. In recalling the many countries who have recently closed their borders, it asks viewers to be mindful of whose purpose walls serve. He calls it a reaction to “a retreat from the essential attitude of openness” in America today. The Robert Frost poem from which he borrowed the installation’s title is, after all, a story of neighbors who are friends, who are freely welcome to cross the “good fences.”
Mr. Ai’s other recent artwork supports this interpretation. He is a political creator, with exhibitions like “Laundromat,” made of the abandoned items of a refugee camp, and “Hansel and Gretel,” also in New York City, which critiques the encroaching of surveillance culture and the sacrifices of privacy.
“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” will open in multiple boroughs on October 12th. An end date has not yet been announced.