Art and History on Ellis Island

Art and History on Ellis Island

On September 25, 2014 Save Ellis Island announced it would open the historic Hospital Complex on Ellis Island’s south side to the public for guided tours. For the first time in sixty years, a portion of the 22 hospital buildings, once considered to be the largest and most modern Public Health Facility in the US, would be opened for 90-minute docent led “Hard Hat Tours”. By opening day, October 1st, tickets would be sold out for months in advance. The Hard Hat Tour quickly became the hottest ticket to buy in NYC. Today, nearly fours months after opening day, the tours continue to be sold out.

JR Unframed Ellis Island

To celebrate the long awaited opening of the Ellis Island Hospital, Save Ellis Island President, Janis Calella, commissioned well known French street artist, JR, to install an art exhibit inside the buildings. JR, famous for his large-scale pervasive art, had been interested in Ellis Island’s immigrant hospital for many years. The collaboration between Calella and JR quickly morphed into a conversation between JR and the ghostly images of the patients, doctors and nurses who passed through the hospital buildings in the early twentieth century.


If you ask JR he may say he doesn’t believe in ghosts, at least not until he spent several days in the immigrant hospital. The “stuck souls” spoke to him in a way that would influence his work and often find him looking over his shoulder.

JR02038blogThroughout the buildings and hallways, the wards, kitchen, pharmacy, corridors and morgue where JR’s pastings are located – immigrants, nurses and doctors can be seen going about their work, patients being treated or visiting families with children playing. From the operating rooms to the waiting rooms, JR’s work assists in telling the stories of the immigrants seen in this hospital.


We hope you enjoy the videos and we hope you’ll visit us at Ellis Island. Merci’

The Hard Hat Tours continue. JR’s work will remain until time takes Its toll on the paper pastings and they become almost invisible.

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Video Credit – Interview with JR. Thank you to Sarah Cascone, Assistant Editor, You can follow Artnet, one of the finest online art magazines, at and Twitter @artnet, Facebook, etc…