SAN FRANCISCO — Opening September 27, @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz will feature a series of seven site-specific installations by artist Ai Weiwei in four locations on Alcatraz Island, offering a new cultural lens through which to experience the notorious military and federal penitentiary turned national park.
Presented by the FOR-SITE Foundationin partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the exhibition explores urgent questions about human rights and freedom of expression and responds to the potent and layered history of Alcatraz as a place of detainment and protest.
The large-scale sculpture, sound, and mixed-media works will be installed in the two-story New Industries Building where “privileged” inmates were permitted to work; the main and psychiatric wards of the Hospital; the A Block cells, the only remaining section of the military prison that was constructed in the early 20th century; and the Dining Hall.
With the exception of the Dining Hall, these spaces are usually off limits to visitors, but all will be open to the public throughout the run of the exhibition. On view through April 26, 2015, @Large will provoke visitors to consider the broader social implications of incarceration and the possibilities of art as an act of conscience.
Tickets for the exhibition will go on sale to the public on June 27, and include access to the exhibition and the general Alcatraz audio tour. Tickets to Alcatraz sell out several weeks in advance.
For Ai, the exhibition is not simply an exploration of social issues or artistic themes; it is rooted in the reality of his life. In spring 2011, Ai was detained by the Chinese government for 81 days on charges of tax evasion.
Following his release, he was prohibited from leaving Beijing for one year and is still unable to travel outside of China. Because Ai is unable to visit Alcatraz, he is developing the works in his Beijing studio with the support of exhibition curator and FOR-SITE Executive Director Cheryl Haines and an international team of collaborators from organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
To support the visitor experience on the island, @Large will feature a team of Art Guides positioned at each of the installations and available to provide additional background about the creation of the works, the history of the locations, and the themes of the exhibition. The Art Guide program will play a vital part in the exhibition’s broader goal to foster a public dialogue about human rights, freedom of expression, and other critical issues explored through Ai’s art and activism—issues that are resonant for individuals and communities internationally.
@Large is the latest installation in the Golden Gate National Parks’ Art in the Parks program, a cooperative effort of the National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Presidio Trust to work with community partners such as the Headlands Center for the Arts, the FOR-SITE Foundation, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The program invites established and emerging artists from around the world to create and temporarily display contemporary art in park settings to foster different ways of experiencing and exploring the cultural and natural themes of the Golden Gate National Parks.
Additional information on @Large, Art in the Parks, and associated programs and opportunities can be found on the project’s official page atAiWeiweiAlcatraz.org.
One of the most prominent cultural figures of the 21st century, Ai Weiwei is a Beijing-based artist and activist whose work encompasses sculpture, installation, photography, film, architecture, and social criticism. His work often responds to conditions in China, including limits placed on free speech and expression, as well as his personal experience of incarceration.
Ai’s art has been featured in several major solo exhibitions, including the retrospective Ai Weiwei: According to What?, organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, on view at the Brooklyn Museum through Aug. 10, 2014; and Evidence, on view at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin through July 7, 2014. Ai’s work was previously presented in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 2010–11 as part of the FOR-SITE exhibition Presidio Habitats, for which artists and designers created animal habitats.
Beyond its legacy as a world-famous former federal penitentiary (1934–63) that once held notorious criminals like Al Capone, Alcatraz has undergone numerous incarnations that have contributed to its unique and deeply layered history. First inhabited by native peoples who arrived more than 10,000 years ago, the island was recognized for its strategic value as a military fortress in the Civil War era, and later catalyzed the Native American Red Power movement with the revolutionary 18-month occupation by the Indians of All Tribes from 1969 to 1971. Today, it stands as one of the country’s most popular national park sites and visitor destinations, attracting more than 1.4 million people each year. The island is also the site of the West Coast’s first lighthouse and home to gardens, tide pools, nesting birds, and unrivaled views of San Francisco Bay.
@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz is presented by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.
Lead support for the exhibition is provided by Roger Evans and Aey Phanachet and by the Fisher family.
@Large will be accompanied by two richly illustrated, full-color publications: a hardbound edition available at museum shops and bookstores worldwide and a softcover catalogue sold at Alcatraz Island. Bringing together newly commissioned essays from leading activists, curators, and humanitarians, extensive photographic documentation, and an array of archival materials, the catalogues will serve as the comprehensive record for this groundbreaking exhibition and provide readers with an expanded historical and political context for the project.
On May 13, the FOR-SITE Foundation launches a Kickstarter campaign in support of the @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Art Guides program. Spanning 30 days (May 13 through June 11), the campaign seeks to raise funds to hire a team of Art Guides who will answer visitors’ questions and help interpret Ai Weiwei’s work. A contemporary take on the traditional museum docent model, Art Guides engage visitors one-on-one in discussion about the art, fostering a more personal experience of the exhibition and encouraging visitors to perceive and respond to the artwork through their own unique lens. Visit FOR-SITE’s Kickstarter campaign page.
Established in 2003 by Cheryl Haines, the FOR-SITE Foundation is dedicated to the creation, understanding, and presentation of art about place through commissions, artist residencies, and educational programs. Since 2008, FOR-SITE has broken new ground and provided a model for engaging the public through artistic collaborations on national park land.
FOR-SITE’s recent projects include International Orange, a group show at Fort Point featuring work by leading contemporary artists to mark the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge; and a series of installations by Andy Goldsworthy in the Presidio of San Francisco. For more information, visit for-site.org.
The National Park Service (NPS) is a federal agency within the US Department of the Interior charged with managing the preservation and public use of America’s most significant natural, scenic, historic, and cultural treasures. The NPS manages the Golden Gate National Parks, as well as 400 other park sites across the United States. For more information, visit nps.gov/goga.