Galerie Perrotin presents the film Ellis, directed and produced by JR, written by Eric Roth, starring Robert De Niro, featuring the music of Woodkid and Nils Frahm, and an exhibition of photographs by JR of his recent series Unframed Ellis Island which document a permanent installation which animates, enlivens and offers unprecedented access to New York’s Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. In this specific context, JR has directed the film “Ellis” where Robert De Niro embodies the history of the place.
Open to the public for the first time since 1954, the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital facilitated the passage of a massive wave of immigration to the United States from 1902 to 1930. All told, over a million patients deemed too ill for immediate naturalization would pass through its walls. Having to screen for and treat a veritable catalogue of diseases from around the world would transform the hospital, the first public health facility in the country, into a test-case for then state-of-the art sterilization and diagnostic procedures. The program proved effective, though following tightened restrictions on immigration in the 1930s, the facility was repurposed to house disabled soldiers and, later, as a detention center for Axis prisoners following the Second World War. In 1954, outmoded and disused, the Hospital was shuttered, abandoned, and, until recently, largely forgotten.
Today, the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital stands much as it was abandoned; but after sixty years of silence and disrepair, local vegetation has begun to reclaim the grounds, introducing grass and vine to what must’ve once been a starkly modern facility. As the former setting for the confluence of illness and recovery, health and death, of prisoners and heroes, aspirations and disappointments, if any place might be said to be haunted, Ellis Island Hospital certainly meets all criteria. And it is from this heavily charged genius loci that JR, in coordination with Save Ellis Island, has undertaken “Unframed Ellis Island.” As with previous Unframed projects — Grottaglie, Italy (2009), Vevey, Switzerland (2010), Sao Paulo, Brazil (2011), Washington, USA (2012), Marseille, France (2013), Baden Baden (2014) et Lille (2015)– JR does not compose his own photographs, but instead recuts existing photography, excising figures and portraits from their frames to recompose them in unexpected locales and public settings. The overall effect is equal parts stagecraft and public art, recalling the original photographs while redeploying them in such a way as to give them new life on confrontation with their viewers. With “Unframed Ellis Island” the manner in which the original subjects of JR’s source material are granted new life is perhaps even more direct: Culled from hospital archives, JR has repopulated the hospital with its former inmates, rendering its “ghosts” present and visible, and, in so doing, de-mystifying the very real sense in which the hospital is haunted with its own redolent history. Here, JR is less the artist as historian than he is artist as exorcist or ghost-seer, reconciling past, present, and viewer in artful communion.
Beginning his artistic career at the age of 17, JR happened upon a camera on the Paris subway and began pasting portraits in the eastern suburbs of Paris, Montfermeil, Les Bosquets in 2004.
Since then, JR creates monumental photographs that he pastes around the world, infiltrating in urban life anonymous portraits, witnesses of the present and the past – “Women are Heroes” in Rio de Janeiro, Jaipur, Nairobi (2008-2010), which gave its title to JR’s movie that was selected at the Festival de Cannes in 2010; “The Wrinkles of the City” in Cartagena, Shanghai, Los Angeles, La Havana, Berlin and Istanbul (2008-2015).
JR reveals art by action, displaying his gigantic prints over the suburban buildings of Paris (“28 Millimètres, Portrait of a Generation”, 2004-2006), on walls in the Middle East (“Face 2 Face”, 2007) or in the United States, in the favela Morro da Providencia in Brazil (“28 Millimètres, Women Are Heroes”, 2008) or on the roofs in Kibera, Kenya (“28 Millimètres : Women are Heroes”, 2009), on the facade of Tate Modern in London…
He received the prestigious TED Prize in 2011 that offered him to make a “wish to change the world”. With the INSIDE OUT Project, JR brings together and prints portraits, as messages of personal identity (www.insideoutproject.net). On this occasion, photobooths printing large-scale self-portraits were seen during the summer in various places of the globe, including Paris (Centre Pompidou, Galerie Perrotin), Arles (Rencontres de la Photographie), Tel Aviv or Ramallah, and Hong Kong at Galerie Perrotin in 2012; furthermore photobooth trucks travels around the world such as in Japan (2011), Amsterdam, London, at Times Square, NYC, at Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2013), around Shanghai in 2014, etc. Solo shows of JR’s work have been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide, including The Rath Museum in Geneva, Tokyo’s Watari Museum, The Contemporary Art Museum in Dallas, The Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, the Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany, Power Station of Arts in Shanghai, and “Au Panthéon”, a monumental installation surrounds the drum of the Pantheon’s dome until the end of its renovation.
In 2014, when invited to produce a work for the New York City Ballet (NYCB), JR persuaded Peter Martins, director of the David Koch Theater, to put on a choreographic piece about the history of Cité des Bosquets in Clichy-Montfermeil, at the outskirts of Paris, and the riots of 2005. Featuring Lil Buck and Lauren Lovette, this ballet created by JR for the New York City Ballet in 2014 became a film “Les Bosquets” that he has shot onsite in Clichy-Montfermeil in 2015 with the ballet corps of the Opéra National de Paris.
A 120 page book created with Art Spiegelman “The Ghosts of Ellis Island” has been launched in April 2015 by Damiani.
A 296 page & 500 illustration monograph on JR has been published in October by Phaidon, JR: CAN ART CHANGE THE WORLD?, with a graphic novel by Joseph Remnant and an essay by Nato Thompson.
On sale at the bookshop of the Gallery.