Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

“Ghosts” of Ellis Island

As I read this New York Times article, I couldn’t help but get goosebumps. French artist JR has taken archival photos of immigrants around the island and its hospital and created life-sized prints that now adorn the cracked and peeling walls of the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. This installation “Unframed” is sponsored by the nonprofit Save Ellis Island that strives to protect this historic landmark.


The exhibit is no doubt a social object – or one that facilitates social interaction. What is haunting about this is that the images of the people who once roamed the grounds are the source. “You stand there and you’re in the present, and they’re in the past, and you’re there together,” saidJanis Calella, president of Save Elis Island. JR’s prints weave around the tarnished visage of the decaying hospital, “respecting the architecture” in which the art facilitates the “gallery” rather than the other way around.

Interactive features include one of the pictures being presented upside-down so that visitors must take a picture and then invert it themselves in order to see it properly. Artistic choices like these and to select JR, who is described by the article as bridging pop and high culture, were made in order to attract a younger audience. What else could be done to do so for this exhibit? I hope this beautifully eerie tribute to history fulfills its intended purpose.


5 comments on ““Ghosts” of Ellis Island

  1. amyjoforeman
    September 24, 2014

    Holy cow, this is really cool! I love that JR is using his art to connect with the history of the space. Hopefully it will be effective in starting a dialogue about the importance of saving the hospital. The images are really powerful.

    If I’m in New York, I would definitely visit. It’ the first time in 60 years that the building has been open to the public. Maybe I’d even see a ghost! Road trip?

  2. cayleycarroll
    September 25, 2014

    Ok this is pretty freaking cool. “Unframed” is a perfect cocktail of art, history, time travel and spookiness. The respect the artist, JR, has for the buildings is also wonderful.. If the pictures don’t stay pasted to the walls then oh well. Guess they weren’t meant to be! Kudos to Save Ellis Island for establishing such a neat exhibit that is sure to bring attention to their mission and vision. I really hope I can get up to New York before the installation closes!

  3. sobashhere
    September 26, 2014

    I would love to go experience this installation. What a commendable representation of historical and present interactions with the space. This is an excellent model of administrative and artistic collaboration by JR and Save Ellis Island. I think the use of projections could be an awesome interactive addition to the installation. The movement of the projections would instill a sense of mobility rather than the static feeling of looking at scene in a snow globe.

  4. alexgilbertschrag
    September 26, 2014

    In our Diversity in Arts Management course that some of us are taking, we are looking at a specific site, here in Washington DC and how they are bringing art to their community. There is a dilapidated, old, funeral home that was not bringing much joy to the community, so they decided to paint it. They brought art and color to the community. I think this installation is a great idea! Most of us don’t have the time, or take the time, to go and hang out in a museum for a few hours. This installation brings the art to the people. It’s also bringing awareness to a different time in the past. I think it’s a great idea that provides insight to those who live today with those who lived in the past. There is a connectedness of seeing visions of other people living, in different outfits and depictions, that provides an out of the norm experience.
    I still when traveling on the metro, am surprised by the artists and musicians who set up camp on the platforms and outside of the escalators. I’ve had the priviledge to listen to these three men singing on the lower platform of metro center the last few trips I’ve made to my internship. It’s amazing to see the people who are normally solemnly traveling all of a sudden pay attention and brighten up from an otherwise gloomy metro ride. Art can bring life to even the darkest places.

  5. yaoge2016
    September 26, 2014

    “Unframed — Ellis Island” is really impressive, and I really appreciate it that you introduce the exhibit to us! What a great idea to bring old archival photography to site of hospital, which composes a symphony of arts, memory and history.
    The exhibit which portrays a history of American in early twentieth century reminds me of the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, which also records a history and whose function is to make people remember that history. The exhibit in the Memorial Hall is much different from the one held in Ellis Island. Its atmosphere is full of bitterness, and audience feel depressed once they stepped into the hall. I hesitate to visit the hall as I’m feared to lose myself in sorrow.
    I believe I’m not the only person. However, the Ellis Island’s show is more artistic and easier to let audience to participate, which as the article says it sure can “attract more young audience”. The idea of the exhibit could be taken into practice if museums like Memorial Hall really want to change.

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