Ai Weiwei Is Filling Alcatraz with 176 LEGO Sculptures

Detail of Ai Weiwei, Trace (2014).
Photo: Kyle Smith.

A sign outside “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz.”
Photo: FOR-SITE Foundation/Instagram.

Aside from the Koonstrospective, Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at Alcatraz may be the most hotly anticipated US contemporary art show of the year, but what does the Chinese artist and activist have in store for the historic island prison? The answer, apparently, is LEGO. Lots and lots of LEGO.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle preview of “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz“—the exhibition opening September 27 and being organized by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service—the centerpiece of the show is an installation in the New Industries Building that will feature 176 portraits of political prisoners and exiles made from LEGO blocks. The piece, titled Trace, features images of people who as of June were either in prison or exiled due to their political beliefs and affiliations.


Detail of Ai Weiwei, Trace (2014).
Photo: Kyle Smith.

The 176 LEGO portraits were begun at Ai’s studio in Beijing and were completed in San Francisco by a team of 90 volunteer LEGO maniacs over the course of three weeks, the Chronicle reports. “I’m overwhelmed by how remarkable it looks,” Cheryl Haines, the exhibition’s curator, said. “This is the face of the individual in the fight for freedom, but it’s also a collective statement and to see the density and quantity of people that are incorporated in this work, I find deeply moving.”

The installation is made up of LEGO bas-reliefs measuring between two and four feet across, which are spread on the floor over a space as big as a football field. They are organized into six large sections, with spaces to walk in between that evoke the layout of a cemetery.

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz” opens on September 27 and continues through April 26, 2015.

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