nan goldin and patti smith are making art in oscar wilde's prison cell

Ai Weiwei and Wolfgang Tillmans have also created works inspired by Reading Prison's most notorious inmate.

by Hannah Ongley
06 September 2016, 6:55pm

In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor at since-shuttered Reading Prison in Berkshire, England. The legendary literary artist had recently attempted to persecute the father of his male lover Alfred Lord Douglas (or Bosie) for libel after a barrage of homophobic insults. But when evidence of Wilde's same-sex affairs was dug up during the trial, it lead to his own arrest on charges of "gross indecency." It was during this stint — which is often thought to be responsible for Wilde's death in 1900 — that Reading's most famous inmate wrote De Profundis, the heartbreaking 50,000 word open letter to Bosie composed between January and March 1897, with pages confiscated once they were completed. 

Wilde's sexuality is only hinted at in De Profundis, which is to be expected considering homosexuality wasn't made legal in the UK until 67 years after his death. But the text holds an important place on Britain's — and America's — timeline of LGBTQ rights. A new exhibition by Artangel will revisit Wilde's Reading Prison years with a series of readings and exhibitions highlighting De Profundis' gay legacy alongside its universal themes of isolation and imprisonment. Nan Goldin, whose 70s and 80s photos of LGBTQ communities still remain fiercely relevant today, has turned a row of cells on C Wing into an exhibition of photos and short video works. One of her pieces, according to The Guardian, is an interview with a 91-year-old man who is still seeking an apology from the government for his homosexuality conviction 70 years ago. Another tackles gay rights in places where homosexuality is still illegal. 

Other contributing artists include Ai Weiwei, Wolfgang Tillmans, Marlene Dumas, and Patti Smith, who will be reading passages from Wilde's love letter. "This exhibition brings together that which Wilde's final works so eloquently delineated: the pain of separation, the excruciatingly slow passage of time, betrayal, redemption, and love," says Artangel of the show. 

"Inside - Artists and Writers in Reading Prison" runs from September 4 through October 30, 2016. 


Text Hannah Ongley
Image via Facebook

Ai Weiwei
Patti Smith
oscar wilde
wolfgang tillmans
nan goldin
Marlene Dumas
Inside Artists and Writers in Reading Prison