Patti Smith and Ai Weiwei take over prison for major art exhibition



The prison where Oscar Wilde served a sentence for homosexuality

A major new art exhibition will see thirty artists including Ai Weiwei and Patti Smith present works at Reading prison in honour of its most famous resident, Oscar Wilde, who served two years there in the 1890s for homosexuality.

The project has been orchestrated by Artangel, a London-based arts organisation known for producing extraordinary pieces in unexpected places.

During two-month project artists will respond to the work of Wilde, the prison space and themes of imprisonment and separation. “I think for many people it will be a kind of pilgrimage,” Artangel co-director Jamie Lingwood said to the Guardian. “Wilde seems to speak to so many people in so many different ways.”

Every Sunday in September and October, performers will individually read De Profundis in the prison chapel. The work is Wilde’s harrowing 50,000 word letter written to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. The list of reciters includes Patti Smith, Maxine Peake, Ragnar Kjartansson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Kathryn Hunter, Neil Bartlett, Lemn Sissay and Colm Tóibín,

Meanwhile, new artworks have been commissioned from artists including Wolfgang Tillmans, Nan Goldin and Steve McQueen, who will display an installation from within the cell.

Ai Weiwei and a string of other artists will use their own direct or imagined experience of state-imposed separation from loved ones to write prison letters. Five of these letters will broadcast on BBC Radio 4 over the course of a week.

Inside – Artists and Writers in Reading Prison runs from 4 September to 30 October. Plan your visit here.