Art Show Review

JR – Crossing

Lazarides Rathbone
16th Oct to 12th Nov 2015

All photos: Dave Stuart aka NoLionsInEngland

Ephemerality – a quality word we like to bandy around when generalising about the culture of street art. We tend to forget that also gallery shows don’t last forever so if you are reading this review after 7pm today, Graffoto apologises as it’s now too late to catch this show. Which is a shame and I thank my lucky stars that at last I managed to visit the show and grab a quiet hour in there today, the last day.

JR is a street artist whose work is best described as “Big Art”. He has been doing art and a grand scale for many years including a lot of jaw-dropping traffic stopping work in London.

JR London
Cordy House – 2008

JR London
Cordy House – 2008

JR London
Old Truman Brewery, 2008

Inside Out Project 2011 (audience participation event!)

Inside Out – Somerset House 2013

JR London
Inside Out – Somerset House 2013

The “Crossing” referred to in this show refers to the journey undertaken by many immigrants to the USA, on arrival in Upper New York Bay the gaze of the Statue of Liberty (est 1886) bid welcome while Ellis Island served (1882 – 1954) as a credential checking facility for the 8 million mainly European migrants who passed through its registry room. According to Wikipedia, a mere 2% of the arrivals were repatriated whence they came for reasons of poverty, chronic ill health or “insanity”. Eight thousand died in the hospital facility established on Ellis Island and it is in those derelict ruins that JR filmed a very moving elegy to an immigrant’s passage, featuring Robert de Niro.

The exhibition has four aspects. The film at the top floor, is worth watching first as it is beautiful, the narration is poetic and it provides a lot on context for the Elis Island archival photographs.

Immigrants, nurses, travellers and welcoming party, JR has sought to represent all parties in that early 20th century human migration drama. The Ellis Island aspects of the static art divides into JR pasting Ellis Island archive photos onto beautifully weathered wood, and JR’s photographs of his paste ups in situ in the old hospital of the Ellis Island portraits.

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Arriving on Ellis Island #6″; Ellis Island archive photo on wood – a welcome party?

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Arriving on Ellis Island #3″; Ellis Island archive photo on wood

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Photo of paste up in situ, Ellis Island Hospital

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The fourth element resulted from JR’s 2014 collaboration with New York Ballet Company. Ballerinas photographed in urban and industrial contexts are fine but the real photographic gem is the portrait created by oversize half tone dots imprinted on ballet dancers costumes. At a reasonable distance the dancers fade but we gain an appreciation of a portrait of a pair of eyes in huge scale.

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Les Bosquets, Eye See You

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Now you see it

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Now you don’t

Close up, the portrait disappears and the individuals emerge. It’s all about humanity, near or far.

This staged example of a ballet dancer dancing inside an opened container in a stack of empties is very impressive in its execution and brings one thought to mind – globalisation; the USA is the world’s greatest exporter of fresh air in empty containers, that’s trade imbalances for you. That may or more likely may not have been JR’s point.

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“#198 Métal et Tutu”

JR’s exhibition prompts one great big question which is, supposedly one third of the USA population can trace roots to that half century of immigration so if we are inclined to romanticize that early 20th century migrant movement, then surely we must question our individual and big society response to the largest movement of war-displaced migrants in a generation now taking place across Europe.



Ellis Island


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