Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ai Weiwei @Large

You can see from the poster above that the Ai Weiwei exhibit was held on Alcatraz island from Sept. 27th to April 26th. Having seen the publicity and having heard fans like artist Anna Conti enthuse about it, I knew it opened in September. I planned to go sooner rather than later. So....when did I finally make arrangements to attend the show?  Thursday April 23rd, three days before it closed.

It wasn't easy to attend. Since the show was displayed on Alcatraz, art lovers had to reserve space on the Alcatraz Cruise line with all the other tourists planning to visit the prison, and it was necessary to book in advance since the ferries fill up, especially on weekends. I started to check the cruise schedule early in the exhibit's last week and found tickets were unavailable on the weekend and were scarce  during the week. Watching Friday's reservations disappear, I quickly booked for Thursday morning.

We launched from San Francisco's Pier 33 with a full boatload of tourists and a few last-minute art lovers.

Alcatraz Ferry Terminal at Pier 33 with Telegraph Hill in the background

The only way to get there

                               I got goosebumps approaching The Rock---my first visit to Alcatraz


A grim world awaited us as we walked up the flower-lined path and entered the first building. Ai Weiwei had designed ceramic flowers to fill the toilets and sinks in some ancient hospital-ward cells. There were touches like this throughout the prison buildings.

I originally thought that works for @large Ai Weiwei would be exhibited in one isolated "museum" building which one could view and then look around Alcatraz or return home. In reality, Ai's works were installed throughout all the prison buildings, forcing the viewer to experience the artist's vision in an actual prison setting, so his message and protest could resonate clearly in insightful and beautiful ways...

"Every one of us is a potential convict"
Ai Weiwei himself is detained in China for speaking out against the government. He can't leave the country, so of course he never saw this exhibition. He and his assistants constructed the seven pieces in his studio. He then sent three teams to erect the installations in seven rooms on Alcatraz. The National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy and the Fore-Site Foundation hosted the show and volunteers helped install it and take it down. Read about it here.

Cheryl Haines, exhibition curator, consults with the artist in his Beijing studio ( Photo from Fore-Site Foundation)

"With Wind"

The entire floor of the New Industries Building (designed as a laundry and work-space where prisoners could work for money) was covered with portraits of men and women from all over the world who made sacrifices in the struggle for individual freedoms. Viewers could wander around the portraits created with colorful Leggos, assembled to depict faces with remarkable likenesses to the subjects. We only recognized a few...

Martin Luther King

Edward Snowden

We wandered around the various buildings discovering new installations and soaking up the atmosphere of the old, deserted prison. The scope of the exhibit was vast, and the logistics of putting it together must have been monumental. The employees were well-informed and happy to answer  our questions.

View of the Leggo exhibit from an upper corridor

An old prison electrical junction box

View from the Gun Gallery of a massive Ai Weiwei construction entitled "Refraction"

A prison path with a view of the Bay Bridge in the hazy distance

When we'd had enough of prison life, we wandered down to the dock, took the ferry to San Francisco and, at Dean's suggestion, hailed a pedicab back to Bart. We did it! We can cross Alcatraz off our bucket list. We're home FREE!

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