Although it operated, under the name Reading Prison, until 2013, for many Reading Gaol is immortalised due to one very significant inmate. Oscar Wilde, the late Victorian playwright, poet and novelist, was incarcerated in Reading between 1895 and 1897. While imprisoned there, Wilde crafted two of his final works: 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' and De Profundis, a lengthy letter to his former lover Lord Alfred Douglas.
Both in tribute to Wilde and as an exploration of the Gaol's architecture, the arts funding body Artangel has arranged Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison. Over September and October, the jail will play host to new works by an international suite of artists, including Marlene Dumas, Robert Gober, Nan Goldin, Steve McQueen, Jean-Michel Pancin and Wolfgang Tillmans.
These will be joined by items relating to the prison's past, Victorian mug shots of in-mates and installed works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Richard Hamilton, Roni Horn, Doris Salcedo and others. Figures including Ai Weiwei, Anne Carson and Deborah Levy have penned letters dealing with their own real or imagined imprisonment, which will be displayed in the prison's cells.
Furthermore, each Sunday during the exhibition's run, the prison chapel will play host to a complete reading of De Profundis. Performers announced include Patti Smith, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Ragnar Kjartansson and Maxine Peake.