Next week, organizers will unveil an unusual public art exhibit on Alcatraz. The installation is expected to draw a record number of visitors to the island during a seven-month run, but the international art-star behind it won’t be attending.
That's because Chinese dissident-artist Ai Weiwei is unable to leave the country, his passport confiscated by authorities following an 81-day detainment for alleged tax evasion.
Ai Weiwei is perhaps best known for his work on the elaborate Birds Nest stadium created for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but his work – often conceptual in nature and political in theme – spans all media, from video to woodworking (for a crash-course on his career, see this “Ai Weiwei Top Ten”).
The seven major new sculptural and mixed-media works now being installed in the former military fortress and penitentiary employ everything from Legos to teapots and bamboo to explore themes of freedom and confinement. Installation by a team of Ai’s assistants and local installers and volunteers has been a dizzyingly complex process. In addition to the fact that the artist can’t leave China, Alcatraz is both a bird sanctuary and a national historic site. That means, for example, that none of the walls can be disturbed.
“It’s actually the opposite of a museum,” said Greg Moore, head of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. “The lack of water on-site, the generated electrical power, no climate control -- but it will be an amazing museum for this art work.”
To check on the progress of this unusual artwork, KQED visited the island recently. The photos here are a first-look at the exclusive coverage KQED will unveil in the coming weeks.