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New York City Ellis Island Immigrants | © legacy1995/Shutterstock
New York City Ellis Island Immigrants | © legacy1995/Shutterstock
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Armory Show Attendees Will Face Large-Scale Photographs of Refugees

Picture of Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 13 February 2018
French street artist JR wants 2018 Armory Show attendees to see the faces of Syrian refugees. His newest project, titled So Close, will superimpose their portraits onto large-scale archival images of immigrants from Ellis Island across the façade of Pier 94.

When the Armory Show opens in Midtown Manhattan on March 8, it will be virtually impossible for fair attendees to miss the succession of 25-foot figures queuing across the façade of Pier 94. Visible from the West Side Highway, this powerful installation will also be seen by myriad passersby.

New York City Ellis Island Immigrants | © legacy1995 / Shutterstock

So Close will utilize Ellis Island’s extensive database of images alongside the portraits of modern-day Syrians at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan as photographed by the artist in 2017. The poignancy of So Close is in keeping with JR’s recognizable and hard-hitting oeuvre, in which colossal photographs are strategically integrated into and onto buildings of social and political significance.

“This super-scaled line of people is standing at a pier on the waterfront of New York City, a symbolic entry point into the country,” curator Jen Mergel told The New York Times. Mergel is at the helm of The Contingent, an exhibition of 15 site-specific artworks presented as part of the Armory Show’s “Platform” section. The pieces in The Contingent adhere to a uniform theme of collective assembly, and will include work by Tara Donovan, Sarah Cain, Jeffrey Gibson, the Bruce High Quality Foundation, and more.

Given the fair’s proximity to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island—New York City’s immigrant gateway—So Close will prompt a consideration of issues such as access, entrance, and denial. The project is reminiscent of JR’s 2014 installation titled Unframed, in which the artist populated the long-abandoned Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital with large-scale renderings of immigrants from Ellis Island’s archive.

“Building upon his UNFRAMED series of borrowed photographs, SO CLOSE collapses history and geography, responding directly to the global immigration crises,” wrote Artsy, who is co-organizing JR’s marquee feature with art dealer Jeffrey Deitch.

“JR faces us with a line of immigrants, waiting,” explains Mergel in a statement. “These supersized silhouettes are sited at a symbolic point of entry. Their scale, like the history and identity of this country, is impossible to ignore.”

The 2018 Armory Show will run from March 8 through March 11 at Piers 92 and 94, 711 12th Avenue, New York, NY 10019.