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They’ve Turned Alcatraz Into An Art Gallery

Notorious artist Ai Weiwei repurposes the former prison.

Alcatraz Island has gone through many incarnations in its time. Also known as “The Rock” (no, not THAT rock), it opened it as a military prison in 1868, served as a federal prison between 1933 and 1963 (famously holding Al Capone), was occupied by indigenous American activists for almost two years in the ’70s and starred in a bunch of excellent films like Escape From Alcatraz (1979) and The Rock (1996, alongside Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery). The island even featured as a playable level on the 2002 video game, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.

Nowadays the historical building is used as a museum and tourist destination, but its latest incarnation is pretty incredible. The notorious military and federal penitentiary turned national park has transformed into an art gallery,  featuring a series of seven site-specific installations titled @Large by artist Ai Weiwei in four locations on Alcatraz Island.

Ai Weiwei, With Wind, 2014 (installation detail, New Industries Building, Alcatraz)

Ai Weiwei is a Beijing-based artist who straddles the thin line between art and activism, and he is using this opportunity to respond to the island’s layered history by raising questions on freedom of expression and human rights that resonate universally. His work also often draws on his personal experience of incarceration in China.

Ai Weiwei‘s Chinese passport is currently revoked, so don’t expect him to make an appearance.

The exhibition is included at no additional cost as part of the Alcatraz Island tour ticket price and it’s on now until 26 April 2015.


See the repurposed prison for yourself. Qantas flies to San Francisco.