NYU saw a new addition to its campus this month with the arrival of a massive cage-like structure in Washington Square Park. The installation, called “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” was created by Beijing-based artist Ai Weiwei. Accompanying the projects, hundreds of similar cage-like configurations by the artist have been spotted in construction across all five boroughs.
Ai is a renowned contemporary artist and activist whose installations have been displayed in museums worldwide. His newest work in progress, “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” appeared over night under the Washington Square Arch. Sponsored by the Public Art Fund, the design is a larger-than-life birdcage that fits snugly into the Arch. While the cage’s presence may baffle park-goers, its intent is apparent in the installation’s title. According to Ai, who spoke with students, park goers and media outlets at the exhibit’s launch on Oct. 12, “Good Fences” — a reference to Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” — is a comment on the increasing hostility toward immigrants and the rise of nationalism throughout the world.
With last month’s announcement to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and this month’s commencement of construction on prototypes for President Donald Trump’s proposed wall, Ai’s “Good Fences” comes at a more important time than ever.
“We are witnessing a rise in nationalism, an increase in the closure of borders and an exclusionary attitude toward migrants and refugees, the victims of war and the casualties of globalization,” Ai said in a recent interview with the New York Times.
While the arrival of “Good Fences” was subject to criticism from locals and the Washington Square Association, students within the NYU community have praised Ai’s artistic endeavor to defend immigrants. Adriana Guidry, a Mexican-American Tisch sophomore, found the installation complimentary of the university’s progressive and inclusive values.
“Ai Weiwei’s choice to display [“Good Fences”] in Washington Square Park further solidifies NYU’s reputation as a safe space for marginalized students,” Guidry said. “It lets students of every background know that they are safe and wanted here.”
Criticism for the exhibit stems from the unexpected arrival of “Good Fences” under the 125-year-old monument — without the Washington Square Association’s permission or involvement — in addition to its interference with the park’s 93rd annual Christmas tree lighting.
“The monumental Arch is a work of art in itself,” the Washington Square Association said in a letter to the Public Arts Fund. “It does not need to be politicized with the proposed installation. This installation sets a dangerous precedent that one of New York City’s most recognized monuments, and pieces of art can be decorated and co-opted for four months at a time.”
Unapologetically, “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” still stands at Washington Square Parks and across NYC as a tourist hotspot. In addition to its Instagram-ready nature, the installation has served as the backdrop for many local and student protests. This past Friday night, hundreds of students under the structure protested the recent arrest of LGBTQ members and allies in Egypt.
“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” is on display at Washington Square Park, and a slew of other locations, until Feb. 11. More information and a full list of locations can be found here.
A version of this article appeared in the October 23 print edition.