The Chinese artist uses the notorious prison as a backdrop for metal sculpture, colorful dragons, and Lego portraits.
Set against the stark backdrop of Alcatraz, Ai Weiwei’s new exhibition, @Large, is a celebration of freedom that takes many forms, from soaring welded-metal sculpture to colorful Chinese dragons and oversize, abstracted portraits of political prisoners rendered in Legos. Because Ai cannot travel outside China, he relied on technology and a large team of supporters—including Amnesty International and the For-Site Foundation, which commissioned the exhibition—to ensure that the work he created at his Beijing studio would translate to the prison site. The installations—many integrated into areas previously inaccessible to the public—include Trace, 175 abstracted portraits fashioned from Legos and depicting individuals who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs or affiliations. With Wind, an oversize version of a traditional Chinese paper dragon, is stuck without flight in a cold room once used for prison labor, and Refraction is a huge bird-like wing made from reflective panels recycled from Tibetan solar cookers. Each installation plays off of the architecture and previous use of space at the prison. @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz is a presentation of Art in the Parks, a cooperative effort of the National Park Service, the Presidio Trust, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Headlands Center for the Arts. The exhibition opens September 27 and runs through April 26, 2015.