Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz

I’m such a dilettante that my introduction to Ai Weiwei occurred only a few years ago in an exhibition at SFMOMA that featured a number of his sculptures, some of which were so savagely satirical that i burst into laughter, attracting the attention of a dour docent who expressed the opinion that the most demonstrative permissible expression of Art appreciation was a discreet smile displaying only a moderate number of teeth.

After seeing that exhibition it was clear that if i were in charge of China, Mr. Ai would be getting some re-education while hanging on a dungeon wall, ideally with that extradited docent alongside him.

So when i learned that a major exhibition featuring Ai’s work had been mounted at Alcatraz, i arranged to get myself invited to join three art lovers in a visit.

Oh wow.  Go.  And don’t fiddle around to make your reservation until the last minute the way i did with the last Pier 24 show and then, like me, discover that everyone else has done this and it’s already booked solid until the end, leaving you standing there whimpering at the closed door.

There was no savagely satirical sculpture this time but rather, spread out over several buildings, a series of quietly moving segments about political prisoners/dissenters, some parts visual, others auditory, and one participatory in that you can write a postcard of encouragement/support to some of the 176 people memorialized in the Trace segment. You can’t write them all, of course, as some, like Martin Luther King, are dead and others, like Edward Snowden, have not left a forwarding address.

You can read detailed descriptions of the various parts in this splendid link, so i won’t try to duplicate them here but rather just say they ranged from the spectacularly gorgeous to the profoundly saddening.

I’m going to book another visit soon and go over on the Segway since more of the island is open to the public for this exhibition than is usual, and i want to take my biggest camera and lots of photos, both of the show and of the prison and its grounds, in hopes that one or two will turn out good enough to post here.

Meanwhile, i was blasting away like mad on this visit but didn’t get anything worth showing, but just to give you an idea, here’s the dragon:

Ai Weiwei dragon at Alcatraz


And finally, the only halfway decent pic of this batch. “Not In Use”, a sculpture not by Ai Weiwei but rather from the island’s permanent collection.

Sculputure from the permanent collection on Alcatraz



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