Ai Weiwei, the provocative Chinese artist, will build more than 100 fences and installations around New York City this fall for “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” one of his most large-scale public art projects to date....You're not supposed to think that fences are good.
“When the Berlin Wall fell, there were 11 countries with border fences and walls,” Mr. Ai said. “By 2016, that number had increased to 70. We are witnessing a rise in nationalism, an increase in the closure of borders, and an exclusionary attitude towards migrants and refugees, the victims of war and the casualties of globalization.”So he's building fences against fences. It's sort of like we're supposed to hate his art. Get this thing outta here.
It calls to mind the old "Tilted Arc" — a long metal wall that blocked diagonal paths across a plaza that many NYC workers just hated. But I don't think that work was intended to express the idea that walls are bad. I think it meant look at my big, beautiful modernist erection. But for those of us who worked in the area and had an interest in freedom of movement through what would otherwise be an open plaza, the predominant thought was, yes, I've seen it, I've seen it in my way a hundred times, get it the hell out of here. And in the end it was removed. The artist was miffed, but the workers were happy. Not as happy as Berlin when its wall fell, but happy to have the arrogant artist's imposition disimposed.
I've talked about "Tilted Arc" a few times on this blog, notably here:
The sculpture's high art proponents ridiculed the complaints, including a fear of "terrorists who might use it as a blasting wall for bombs." Serra himself said that to move the "site-specific" sculpture would be to destroy it. He also said: "I don't think it is the function of art to be pleasing. Art is not democratic. It is not for the people." Fine, but then, keep it out of the plaza! And don't take taxpayer money. The Grand Central carpeting on the other hand, can be walked on comfortably, is amusing for almost everybody, and is going to be removed after a short time, so any perception of ugliness will soon enough give way to the good feeling of relief when it is gone. "Tilted Arc" was there, in the way, permanently, with no feeling or sensitivity for the people who worked in the Plaza. I worked in the area at the time and know first-hand its effect on human beings, who had "site-specific" jobs and did not deserve to be challenged by art to take a 120-foot walk around a steel arc hundreds or thousands of times.IN THE COMMENTS: There's some discussion of the extent to which the taxpayers are funding this. And Matthew Sablan wants to talk about the Robert Frost poem (the full text of which you can read here):
The fence/wall in the poem always struck me as one guy saying, "we don't need this; it wastes our time every year rebuilding the damn thing," and the other guy saying, "yeah, but we might need it in the future, and besides, you and I trust each other, yet, trust but verify."That made me read the poem and feel I can enlighten you. This is purely on my reading it just now and not looking at what anybody else says. I think the narrator enjoys the yearly activity with his neighbor. He calls it a "game." They don't really need a wall because they're only growing trees and the trees aren't going anywhere. But a second amusing thing you can do when you've got another person with you — besides playing a physical game like wall-building — is to have a conversation. The narrator is satisfied with the wall-building game — he's not really trying to avoid the trouble. He kind of likes it.
There's a lot packed into the poem, but in general, it is two different people approaching the wall problem. Frost wants us to think the narrator makes a good point, but the other guy has plenty of valid reasons for wanting a wall (without it, in say, 20 years, how will they know where the property line is? What if an apple tree DOES sprout on the opposite side?)
Also, the wall ISN'T walling the two people out from each other. They could talk over it, if they wanted. Without the wall there, they wouldn't see each other any other time in the year.
He's disappointed by the inability to get the verbal game started. He parries with that idea that the trees aren't going to behave any differently. But the other guy has a go-to old saying: "Good fences make good neighbours." The narrator babbles out a few things and stops short of another idea he could throw out — that elves are taking the wall down — but "But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather/He said it for himself." The narrator wants to have a conversation. But the other guy is just doggedly continuing the physical game, lugging another stone. And all he adds to the conversation — that the narrator thinks could get really interesting with elves or something, anything — is another repetition of the old saying.
Yes, there's repetition in rebuilding the wall every year, and yes, that repetition isn't really necessary, but I think the central problem is frustration at not getting a conversation started. I think the narrator would be just as happy to get a flow of interesting words about the good of maintaining an old fence and redoing the shared annual ritual of moving the stones back where they were. What he wants is to do something with another person with his mind and not just his body. But the other man — whose body is good enough to lift "boulders" — just doesn't have a mind that can do much. He says the same old thing twice, and the narrator wants a real conversation. When the narrator says "Something there is that doesn't love a wall/That wants it down," he means Talk to me, for God's sake!