@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island – San Francisco

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island – San Francisco@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island – San Francisco@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island – San Francisco

October 27, 2014 through April 26, 2015

– Responding to his incarceration for dissent by the Chinese authorities, renowned contemporary artist Ai Weiwei has created seven new site-specific works installed on Alcatraz Island National Park in San Francisco Bay. The first time the island has ever been used to stage an art exhibit, the unique display which uses the ruins of the notorious federal prison as gallery backdrop, reveals not only new perspectives on the artist’s battle against censorship by his own authoritarian government but also addresses freedom of expression and human rights violations by governments around the world.

Hiking across the rocky outcrop reveals a series of works in sculpture, sound and mixed media installed in a group of cells, a hospital, a dining hall and an industrial building, areas that are ordinarily restricted to the public with the exception of the dining hall. Using artworks that balance political impact and aesthetic grace, @Large turns Alcatraz into a laboratory for the exploration of liberty and justice and the balance between individual rights and personal responsibility.

The individual installations include, “With Wind,” consisting of a monumental Chinese dragon kite suspended as if in flight above the prison laundry. Segments of the meandering beast are painted with flowers that represent countries that restrict the civil liberties of their citizens while other parts are adorned with quotes by prominent dissidents including, “Every one of us is a potential convict,” attributed to Ai Weiwei himself.

A meditation on the fight for freedom in Tibet, the massive, five-ton sculpture, “Refraction,” is made up of what appear to be feathers crafted from reflective panels originally used in Tibetan solar cookers. Only looked down upon from the cracked windows of the gun gallery, the work presents the impression of a giant bird wing removed from its body, highlighting the confinement of the only appendage that truly provides the animal its freedom.

Using Legos to to create portraits that call to mind Wild West Wanted Posters, “Trace,” presents the images of 176 individuals who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs, political affiliations or direct actions. Offering a field of international dissident faces, among them are the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and even Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.

Down the hall is, “Blossom,” an installation that commemorates a brief period of tolerance by China’s rulers in 1956 known as the, “Hundred Flowers Campaign.” Composed of thousands of tiny, white, ceramic flowers that fill the sinks, bathtubs and toilets of the psych ward, the display pays tribute to the thousands of dissidents who lost their lives when the government changed course, commemorated by these piles of white flowers.

In, “Stay Tuned,” a cacophony of sounds evokes the loss of acoustic privacy that accompanies incarceration. Visitors enter each of twelve prison cells where the music, reading or speech of an individual punished for their independence plays including Pussy Riot’s punk rock and Martin Luther King Jr. giving his, “Beyond Vietnam,” speech.

In the final installation, “Yours Truly,” an homage to Amnesty International’s tradition of letter-writing, visitors are invited to inscribe a hopeful message on a postcard addressed to one of a number of political prisoners around the world. Featuring images of birds, a symbol of freedom that is a recurring theme in the artists’s pieces at Alcatraz, the postcard are then mailed out by the @Large guides.

Imprisoned for 81 days in 2011 and still forbidden from travelling outside China, the artist never set foot on Alcatraz during the planning of this exhibition, developing the work in his Beijing studio. Embracing the irony of creating site-specific art for a place he can’t see and celebrating free expression while working under the severe constraints imposed upon him by the Chinese authorities, ultimately the project is part of Weiwei’s determination to expand the understanding that, “the purpose of art is to fight for freedom.”

"With Wind" (2014) - Ai Weiwei

“With Wind” (2014) – Ai Weiwei

"Trace" (2014) - Ai Weiwei

“Trace” (2014) – Ai Weiwei

"100 Flowers" (2014) - Ai Weiwei

“100 Flowers” (2014) – Ai Weiwei


Official Exhibition Site


Alcatraz Island National Park

San Francisco, CA 94133









@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island


Visiting Hours:

The only way to get to Alcatraz is by ferry operated by Alcatraz Cruises. Alcatraz Cruises is the official concessionaire of the National Park Service. No private crafts can dock on Alcatraz Island.

Alcatraz Cruises is located at Pier 33 on The Embarcadero at Bay Street in San Francisco, just south of Fisherman’s Wharf.

The ride from San Francisco to Alcatraz Island takes approximately fifteen minutes. Ferries depart every thirty minutes beginning at 8:45 A.M. The last departure of the day is at 3:50 P.M.

Ferries return approximately every thirty minutes beginning at 9:30 A.M. The last return of the day is at 6:30 P.M.

Visitors should plan on spending at least two hours on the island.



Ferry tickets sell out well in advance. Same day tickets are rarely available. Advance purchase is strongly recommended.

There is no separate entrance fee to enter the island. National Park passes do not apply to the ferry service

Adult (12-61) – $30.00

Senior (62+) – $28,25

Child (5-11) – $18,25

Free for children 4 and under.


Purchase Tickets Online




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