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2019 Artist Installations

Eastern State Penitentiary Announces Three New Artist Installations for 2019 Season

April 4, 2019

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site will host three new and 10 returning artist installations in 2019. The projects were chosen for their ability to address Eastern State’s primary themes—including perspectives on the contemporary American criminal justice system and the penitentiary’s fascinating past—with a memorable, thought-provoking approach.

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has commissioned site-specific artist installations since 1995. To date, more than 100 artists have created work for the penitentiary.

Artist installations are included with standard admission. Regular daytime programs, including “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, guided Hands-On History tours, and history exhibits, are also included with admission. Tickets are available online at, or at the door subject to availability.

To celebrate a new season of artist installations, Eastern State Penitentiary will host an opening reception on Thursday, May 2 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments served.

New Installations for 2019 Season (Opening May 2):

Benjamin Wills: Airplanes
Artist Benjamin Wills’ ongoing correspondence with incarcerated people took a meaningful turn when he first asked one of these individuals to send him a paper airplane. Soon he had dozens of airplanes from prisoners around the country. Individually, the airplanes – made from varying materials including commissary lists, drawing paper, and denied appeals – each convey the emotions and expression of their creators. Together, they encourage reflection on a complex and troubling time in American criminal justice. Visitors will be encouraged to write notes to the people who crafted the paper airplanes using postcards provided by the artist.

Alexander Rosenberg: A Climber’s Guide to Eastern State Penitentiary or, Eastern State’s Architecture, and How to Escape It
Artist Alexander Rosenberg brings Eastern State’s history of preservation into conversation with the curiously overlapping story of American climbing. In 1971, Eastern State Penitentiary closed; at the same time, the concept of “clean climbing” was gaining traction in the worldwide climbing community. Drawing inspiration from these intersecting narratives, the artist will rock-climb a dozen or more possible routes on the inside of Eastern State’s 30-foot walls using “clean climbing” techniques. He will then map and name each climb, producing a guidebook. The artist will also fabricate a rack of traditional climbing gear from materials that would have been available within the penitentiary at its closing.

Dehanza Rogers: #BlackGirlhood
Filmmaker Dehanza Rogers’ video projection, commissioned by Eastern State Penitentiary, explores the criminalization of Black girlhood. We observe the struggles of three Black girls as they navigate authority and policing in the classroom. The filmmaker says her work illustrates, in part, the school to prison pipeline and the sexual abuse to prison pipeline.

Returning Installations:

Greg Cowper: Specimen
This evolving collection of insects trapped within the walls of the penitentiary is displayed in a Cabinet of Curiosities, assembled from old prison doors, hardware, and the traditional method for amateur collections, cigar boxes. Cowper’s work is inspired by an article written by an entomologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences after a summer 1889 visit to Eastern State. This visit included a chance encounter with an inmate who collected several rare species of moths and butterflies from his narrow, high-walled exercise yard.

William Cromar: GTMO
This cell is a recreation of a cell from Camp X-Ray, the now-abandoned holding cells in the United States Federal Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Department of Defense replaced the Camp X-Ray cells with newer holding cells, called Camp Delta, in 2002. By placing the Guantanamo Bay cell inside an Eastern State Penitentiary cell, Cromar illustrates “nearly polar-opposite means used to find a nearly equivalent end.”

Michelle Handelman: Beware the Lily Law
This video projection uses the 1969 Stonewall Riots as a starting point to address issues facing gay and transgender inmates. Visitors watching from inside the cell see three actors portraying inmates (projected on the wall), enacting the process of transforming their genders while sharing their characters’ stories of development, sexuality, and eventual imprisonment. Handelman developed these monologues based on the experiences of real men and women.

Tyler Held: Identity Control
Reflecting on the idea that a man is “too easily reduced to an object” when institutionalized, artist Tyler Held uses a car, stripped inside a cell, as a metaphor for relinquished individuality.

Jesse Krimes: Apokaluptein16389067:II
The piece reflects the artist’s personal experience while incarcerated in federal prison, where he created a 39-panel surreal landscape on bed sheets and mailed each piece home. His installation at Eastern State modifies this massive image to cover the interior walls of an abandoned cell.

Rachel Livedalen: Doris Jean
The artist applied removable vinyl lettering and images on the glass panes of Eastern State’s greenhouse. The vinyl imagery is comprised of newspaper articles and photographs from the high-profile case of heiress Doris Jean Ostreicher, whose illegal abortion and subsequent death led to the imprisonment of Milton Schwartz at Eastern State in the 1950s.

Jess Perlitz: Chorus
The artist asked incarcerated men and women from throughout the United States, “If you could sing one song, and have that song heard, what would it be?” Her recordings are played inside a cell at Eastern State. In the resulting “choir,” these haunting voices are layered, escalating, colliding, and eventually grow overwhelming.

Provisional Island: An Electric Kite 
The artist collective Provisional Island installed a handmade radio transmitter in one cell that transmits to portable radios in the cell directly opposite. The broadcast comprises of fragments culled from radio broadcasts and historic radio shows created in prisons and internment camps, and highlights the role of radio in subverting and transcending prison walls.

Solitary Watch with Jean Casella, Jeanine Oleson and Laurie Jo Reynolds: Photo Requests from Solitary
This project invites men and women held in long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons to request a photograph of anything at all, real or imagined, and then finds an artist to make that image. The Eastern State exhibit features an astonishing range of new requests from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, inviting visitors to fulfill requests by uploading their photos to a new project website, which are then sent to people in isolation, and displayed for the public to see.

Cindy Stockton Moore: Other Absences
These translucent portraits depict murder victims whose perpetrators served time at Eastern State Penitentiary in the 20th century. The work hangs inside a cell, as a reminder of those impacted by violent acts and a reflection of how crime and punishment extend beyond prison walls.

Artist installations are made possible in part by revenue from Eastern State’s Halloween fundraiser, Terror Behind the Walls.

Eastern State also receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner