Oscar Wilde: Tribute Breaks Bars

When Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in 1897 for “gross indecency” with another man, he used the time at Reading Goal to write his masterpiece, De Profundis (Out of Depths) in which he unleashed his feelings towards his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas AKA Bosie.  And upon being released, Wilde then wrote his poem, The Ballad of Reading Goal which further immortalized Reading Prison.

Reading Goal Prison

Now an arts organization called Artangel is giving us the opportunity to step into the legendary author’s space and celebrate his work in the setting that birthed it.  The Victorian structure, which had been closed since 2013, was about to be sold when directors, James Lingwood and Michael Morris stepped in and persuaded the Ministry of Justice to let them organize a temporary exhibition within its walls.  This isn’t unusual for Artangel as they’ve been known to secure unique and unusual venues for their projects.

Cell at Reading Prison

Wilde’s suffering is explored through archives, leading through to the installation of new works by artists such as Nan Goldin, Marlene Dumas, and Steve McQueen.  Some cells will carry letters on the theme of state-enforced separation from writers including Binyavanga Wainaina, Ai Weiwei, and Anne Carson. Each Sunday throughout the exhibition, Wilde’s harrowing De Profundis will be performed live in the former prison chapel by readers including Patti Smith, Colm Tóibín, and Ben Whishaw.

The exhibition opens this Sunday and runs through October 3rd.


— Kelly Fine.