Chinese dissident artist and architect Ai Weiwei's major installation @Large opens this weekend inside the former prison building of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, and we just got a sneak preview. The setting itself, which requires a ferry ride from the city and includes spaces in the prison complex that are not typically open to the pubic, adds some drama and historic context to the artwork, and is likely to be a draw for tourists and art hounds regardless. But critics like the one at the Chronicle seem nonplussed by the work itself which doesn't open to the public until Saturday, September 27.
We first learned almost a year ago that Ai Weiwei was bringing this thing to the Bay Area, and recent weeks have been filled with hints about about hundreds of thousands of Legos (all part of a big, interlocked, room-sized piece about political prisoners and civil rights leaders called "Trace" that weighs 16,000 pounds), and sound installations in the famed prison's Cell Block A. The piece has been sponsored by the FOR-SITE Foundation, whose executive director told the the New York Times she was inspired to install art on Alcatraz after working on celebrations for the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th anniversary in 2011.
As Haines says, "Ai Weiwei holds a really unique position in the world today because he's not only a very recognized and celebrated contemporary artist, but he's a very powerful and eloquent advocate for basic human rights, freedom of expression, and individual responsibility."
There are a total of seven site-specific installations in different media, including a floating, fractured, Chinese New Year-inspired dragon kite titled "With Wind" installed in a confined space, and "Refraction," a metallic, mobile-like sculpture of found objects in the previously closed New Industries Building.
And, the artist has made sure that extra wi-fi has been installed on Alcatraz for this show because it is critical to him that the exhibit is shared on social media.
SFist photographer Gerard Livernois gives us a first look at the works, which will be included as part of the National Park Service tour of Alcatraz from Saturday through April 2015, with no extra charge. Be warned, though, that the usual tourist traffic to Alcatraz is already close to capacity according to the Park Service, and reservations for ferries and tours are likely to sell out fast in the coming months because of the added draw of Ai Weiwei and publicity surrounding this.
Here's guessing more ferries will get added.