For those who have yet to make it out to JR’s “Unframed, Ellis Island” exhibition pasted on interior walls of Ellis Island’s historic south side buildings, he has recently installed a sample at the site of DDG’s upcoming condo project 100 Franklin in Tribeca. The enormous 95- by 88-foot blown-up photograph was originally taken at Ellis Island in 1908 and features a group of children awaiting entry into the United States.
DDG, headed by Joseph A. McMillan, Jr., has gained approvals to build a two-wing ground-up condominium at the site, which will also have ground floor commercial space. The project won approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission after switching to a red brick masonry facade that the firm says “will marry old and new” and “demonstrate how a modern building can be created in a historic district.”
“Unframed, Ellis Island” tells the photographic story of the millions of immigrants who passed through the island, and of those who were turned away. JR created many photographic installations in the 29 abandoned hospital buildings of Ellis Island. The exhibition is a tribute to the island’s emotional past; after opening in 1902, the hospital quickly became full of immigrants deemed too sick for entry after doctors spent seconds conducting initial analyses. These unfortunate souls were quarantined and eventually sent home. Before the opening of the exhibition in 2014, the hospital had been closed for sixty years. Like all of JR’s work, the installations are oversized, and done in black and white.
The internationally renowned Parisian artist was recently in the press for a stunning optical illusion installation involving I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre. He started out as a graffiti artist on the streets of Paris before the opening of his first exhibition on the Champs-Élysées. Initially choosing black and white to save money on printing costs, he has since continued because he simply likes the look of it.
JR also directed a short film, ELLIS, to accompany his exhibition, scripted by Eric Roth and starring Robert De Niro. The fourteen-minute film premiered at The New Yorker Festival in October 2015. The stunning creation touches on JR’s idea that “talking about the past is the best way to understand the present and to approach our future.” The exhibition serves as a timely reminder that America itself is a nation of immigrants.