26 May 2018

Ellis Island New York - a place of welcome or of discrimination?

Ellis Island is a small is­l­and in New York Harbour located in the up­per bay near the New Jer­sey coast. By the time Samuel Ellis became the island's private owner in the 1770s, Ellis Island developed into a harbour fort, ammun­ition and ordinance depot, and finally an immigration station. When the British occupied New York City during the Rev­ol­utionary War (1775–83), its large naval fleet sailed freely into New York Harbour. The Continental Congress voted for independence in 1776.

The Federal government eventually purchased Ellis Island from NY State in 1808. When the government realised its strategic value in defending against British invas­ion, they built a series of coastal fortificat­ions in New York Harbour. This was even before they knew about the War of 1812 between the USA, the UK and their respective allies. But the fort was not needed in the 1812 War and served only as an ammunit­ion storage. They built a parapet for 3 tiers of circular guns, plus two earthworks forts at New York Harbour’s entrance.

Ellis Island, first used for migrants in 1892.
Statue of Liberty in the background, dedicated in 1886 (above)

Potential immigrants waiting in the Great Hall, c1900 (below)

Before 1890, the individual states regulated immigration into the USA. Because New York Harbour was the ultimate destination of steamship companies, most immigrants entered the USA here. Or ports like Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, Savannah, Miami and New Orleans.

Then migrants came via Castle Garden in Manhattan, America's first official immigration centre. From 1855-90 Castle Garden served c8 million immigrants, mostly from England, Ireland, Germany and the Scandin­avian countries. Throughout the 1800s, European political instab­ility, nasty religious laws and deter­iorating economic conditions fuelled the largest mass human migration in world history. Thus these people constituted the first large wave of immigr­ants that populated the nation.

Clearly Castle Garden was too small to handle the grow­ing numbers of immigrants. And crooked immigration off­icials took bribes in exchange for letting immigrants get off in Manhattan, without first going through inspection at Ellis Island. The Federal govern­ment inter­vened and needed a new Federally-operated station on Ellis Island.

The new structure on Ellis Island opened in Jan 1892 and over the next 6 decades, 12+ million were to follow.

In June 1897, a fire on Ellis Island burned the facilities to the ground. Although no-one died, Federal and State immigrat­ion records since 1855 were utterly destroy­ed. The USA Treasury quickly ordered the immigration facility be rep­laced and all future structures built on Ellis Island had to be fireproof. In Dec 1900, the new Main Building was opened and 2,251 immigrants rushed in.

Third class passengers being physically examined

The 1st & 2nd class passengers who arrived in New York Harbour didn’t need to undergo the inspection process at Ellis Island. Instead they under­went a quick inspection aboard ship. If families could afford to pur­ch­ase quality tickets, the Federal government “knew” they would not become a burden to the state. 1st & 2nd class passengers were only sent to Ellis Island for further inspection if they were sick or had legal problems.

However steerage/3rd class immigrants travelled in crowded, unsan­itary conditions near the bottom of steam ships, sea sick in their bunks during rough Atlantic Ocean crossings. Upon arrival in New York City, the steerage passengers were transp­ort­ed from the pier by ferry to Ellis Island, to undergo medical and legal inspections.

Migration was rising at the turn of the century and in 1907 more people (c1.25 million) immigrated to the USA than any other year, including Catholics and Jews from eastern Europe. Tradesmen struggled to build new facilities to accommodate this great influx of new immigrants. Hospital buildings, dormitories, contagious disease wards and kitchens all were built as quickly as possible.

As the USA entered WW1, immigration to the USA decreased. In 1918-9, suspected enemy aliens were investigated onboard ship; at the docks they were transferred from Ellis Island so that the USA Navy with the Army Medical Department could control the island complex.

After WW1, a Red Scare spread across America & thousands of suspected alien radicals were interned & later deported. New arrivals faced rejection if they were anarch­ists, had a criminal record or showed poor moral character. So Ellis Island bears a sombre history as a detention centre for thousands of suspected communists and radical immigrants. Yet the overall number of people denied entry at Ellis Island was low; from 1892-1954, only c2% were rejected.

Nasty right-wing politicians demanded greater restrictions on immigration. Yet the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Alien Contract Labour Law and the institution of a literacy test barely stemmed the flood of new immigrants. So the Quota Laws (1921) and the Nation­al Origins Act (1924) were passed. These restrictions were based upon a percentage system according to the number of ethnic groups already living in the USA according to the 1890 & 1910 Censuses. It was an attempt to preserve the ethnic flavour of the old immigrants from North & West Europe, superior to all other races and ethnicities. The doctors who oversaw the medical examinations at Ellis Island led by example - Southern and Eastern Europeans possessed a deteriorating character which made restriction justifiable and necessary.

Ellis Island food tables for third class passengers

During WW2, enemy merchant seamen and Nazi sympath­isers were detained. And the USA Coast Guard also trained 60,000 servicemen there. But it all ended in Nov 1954 when the last detainee was released, and Ellis Island officially closed to immigrants. Aliens and deportees were moved out in Nov 1954 and the port was closed for good.

Starting in 1984, there was a major historic restoration of Ellis Island. The Main Building was reopened to the public in Sep 1990 as the Immigration Museum

22 May 2018

Harold Freedman - Melbourne's artist for the people

Harold Freedman (1915–99) was born in Melbourne and educated at Melbourne Technical Col­lege. Starting his long career in 1936, he worked in all public arts: port­raits, war propaganda, polit­ic­al car­toons, graphic design, ad­vertising, illust­ration, children’s books and large-scale murals.

Harold Freedman: Artist for the People was at the Art Gallery of Ballarat in 2017. Freed­­man’s designation as a people’s artist was seen in his democr­atic teaching style, his well-known murals, and his serv­ice as an Official War Artist in WW2. But whereas Christopher Allen (The Australian, May 2017) and blogger Black Mark thought the work was insensitive to modern art styles, Ballarat curator Julie McLaren believed the work was access­ible, democratic and full of honour for the WW2 soldiers.

In WW2, Freedman enlisted and became a war artist attached to the Royal Austral­ian Air Force Histor­ical War Records Sec­tion. He worked during 1944-5, in Bor­neo, Noemfoor and around Australia. Freedman and two other Austral­ian artists, Eric Thake and Max Newton, were all appointed to doc­ument the RAAF because the Army had previously dominated official art assignments. The more famous artist Sidney Nolan applied to be an official war artist, but was rejected. So he operated as an Unofficial War Artist instead. As did artist Albert Tucker.

Men of Service: The Welder, 
1947, 100 x 62 cm, 
National Gallery Aus, Canberra 

Men of Service: Signal Man, 
1947, 100 x 62 cm, 
National Gallery Aus, Canberra 

Freed­man honour­ed a group who felt under-valued by the public - he portrayed these men and women as noble and dignif­ied. Each image comprised of layers and layers of colour, as in magazines. His work was well represented in galleries, including The War Memorial in Canberra where his official portraits sustained the glamour surrounding the WW2 air force (handsome men in smart uniforms etc). His portraits were sometimes moody eg Wing Commander Clive Caldwall (1944) but always showed intel­lig­ent seriousness.

And see Freedman’s portrait of Victoria Cross winner, Pilot Of­ficer Raw­don Middleton. After his cock-pit was fired on over Italy, Middleton flew his damaged bomber over the Channel to allow his crew to safely bail out close to Britain. Middle­ton tragically died.

His portraits eg Alan Marshall (1943) and The Signal Man (1947) demon­strated great ability, works clearly influenced by Austral­ian black and white illustrators Norman and Lionel Lindsay. These qualities become even more apparent in painted portraits eg a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air For­ce, which was reproduced in the Royal Australian Air Force’s wartime pub­licat­ions.

Men and Women of Service was a post-war propaganda programme that emph­as­ised those who had worked in the Victorian Railways during the war. Because they had been required to remain working in essential services, these people had truly made an important con­tribution to the war effort! Freedman made large coloured litho­graphs that were displayed in Victorian railway stations.

Once again each figure was designed as socialist real­ist type. The station­master was stout and paternal, the signalman lean and an­x­ious. The medium and scale of lithography seem to make the feat­ures coarser than they would appear in paint­ing. But did they produce an effect that was readily recognised and much loved, OR profoundly cliched?

Post-war, Freedman taught at the Technical Coll­ege/RMIT, creating bold, colour-blocked pos­ters. In 1951 his work­shop for print­making was established at the College, but open for artists from the National Gallery School as well. Fred Williams, Charles Black­man, Kenneth Jack and Leonard French were the enthusiastic part­ic­ipants who began ex­hib­iting together in 1954. By 1960, Freedman arranged after-hours classes and brought the supplies. The Melbourne Print Group formed the found­ation for printmaking in the city’s art and technical colleges for many years.

Pilot Officer Rawdon Middleton, 
1946, 70 x 55 cm,
Aus War Memorial, Canberra

Murals The last third of the Ballarat exhibition was devoted to Freedman’s murals, beginning in the late 60s. His first large (4.5 x 60 ms) painted mural was commissioned by the Australian War Memorial. This metic­ul­ously researched work marked the 50th anniversary of the RAAF and formed a backdrop for the war memorial’s RAAF section.

An ABC docum­entary focused on the immense mural (10m x 40m) docum­ent­ing the history of transport in Victoria. One could see the work on the mural being completed, with the aid of a team of assistants. The painting studio was soon re­located to an old electricity sub-station where rail­way carpenters built a massive easel. The mural was plan­ned for a large wall at Spencer St Station, specifically left vacant for this pur­pose, and was to illustrate all the modes of transport during Vict­oria’s boom time from 1834 – horses, trains, trams, cars etc. It was unveiled in Jan 1978 with a gala parade of historic vehicles and vintage aircraft.

A large catalogue, written by Gavin Fry, David Freedman (art­ist’s son) and David Jack (another artist's son), noted Freedman enjoyed the chall­enge and made it central to his work, rather than seeing it as an irksome task. Freedman made art to entertain & colour the lives of working people.

Harold produced a series of paintings on the History of Flight for Tull­amarine’s new international terminal, opened in 1971. Freedman was the first and only person to ever serve as Victoria’s State Artist, appointed in 1972. Alas the History of Flight later ended up into storage.

Shop between 'off peak', 
1950s, railway lithograph, 97 x 60 cm 
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Harold’s aim was to create a very Australian ex­perience. See the Cavalcade of Transport mural, commis­sioned by the government for Spencer St railway stat­ion concourse. It showed every type of trans­p­ort used during the first century of Victoria’s European settle­ment. This massive work was completed by a team of artists in a giant build­ing in Brunswick, during 1973-7. The mural was later removed from Spencer St during the retail development of what is now Southern Cross Stat­ion, and only remains on display above shop-fronts in the Direct Factory Outlets. The artist’s pub­lic works had been compromised by prop­erty development.

The Regional History of Geelong was the first major mosaic mural created in the state studio. Harold created the full-size, colour painted cartoon and his assistants finished the mosaics, in total taking 2.5 years to complete. It can be seen today in the Geelong Art Gall­ery.

History of Transport, 1978
on the north wall of the Direct Factory Outlet building, Southern Cross Station
Victorian Heritage Data Base

The Legend of Fire mosaic, 1982
on the wall of the Eastern Hill Fire Brig­ade, Melbourne
Credit: Harold Freedman Tribute 

mosaic football mural
Waverley Park football ground, 1986
Credit: Harold Freedman Tribute

The Legend of Fire mosaic covers the wall of the Eastern Hill Fire Brig­ade’s headquarters and museum in Albert St East Melbourne. The colour cartoon was created in small and then manually enlarged to the installation size, five ambitious storeys high.

Harold next prepared vast murals for the Victorian Racing Club. The new Hill Stand at the Flemington Race-course was chosen to display the History of Australian Thoroughbred Racing. Midway into the project the newly elected conservative government made a change in arts policy and the studio suddenly became a priv­ate enterprise. At the invitation of the VCR chairman, artists coll­aborated on horses in Freedman's murals, completed in 1988.

Meanwhile Harold negotiated with the Victorian Football League to start a project celebrating the human form and football. His mural and the assistants’ mosaics were installed at the Waverley Park football ground in 1986. He was awarded the Order of Aust­ralia in 1989.

19 May 2018

MoMA New York art exhibition at the NGV in Melbourne

For the 2017 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces, the National Gallery of Victoria/NGV put on a fine exhibition called Van Gogh and the Seas­ons. This exhibition featured works lent by intern­ational museums, and attracted a huge number of Australian visitors.

This year the NGV, in partnership with The Museum of Modern Art New York, is presenting MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemp­or­ary Art as the 2018 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces ex­hib­it­ion. From 9th June–7th Oct 2018, the exhibition is providing a unique survey of the Mus­eum’s iconic collection. The key works are arranged ch­ronol­ogically into 8 them­atic sections, tracing the development of art and design from late-C19th urban and industrial transformation, until the global present.

MoMA is dedicated to championing innovative modern and contemporary art. The Museum opened in Manhattan in 1929, with the plan to be­come the greatest modern art museum in the world. This is seen in its inter-disciplinary collection of c200,000 works by c10,000 artists, shared between 6 curat­or­ial departments: Archit­ect­ure & Design, Drawings and Prints, Film, Media & Performance Art, Painting & Sculpture & Photography

This Melbourne exhibition features c200 works from MoMA, in­cluding some never-before-seen in Australia. Starting in fin-de-siecle Paris, the em­ergence of a new art at the dawn of the C20th is repres­ented by some of MoMA’s earliest acquis­itions, includ­ing master­works by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne.

Van Gogh, Portrait of Joseph Roulin, 1889

Cezanne, Still Life with Apples, 1896

Paintings and posters are displayed with objects from MoMA’s Architecture and Design collection, many of which draw out issues common to arch­it­ects, designers and artists — creating a new visual language for the modern era. These include: an archit­ectural model by Le Corbusier that featured in MoMA’s first arch­itecture exhibition in 1932; graphic designs, furnit­ure and textiles by artists involved in the influential workshops of my beloved Bauhaus. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, for example, used metals and indus­t­rial methods not common in fine art then. Josef Albers and Marcel Breuer are also included in the exhibition.

Works by pioneering cubists & futurists eg Pablo Picasso appear next to the radically abstracted forms present in artists like Kazimir Malev­ich and Piet Mon­drian. Then we see the surreal visual language of artists like Sal­vador Dalí and Frida Kahlo, and the spontaneity advanced in works by Al­exander Calder, Jackson Pollock and oth­er prominent Abstract Express­ion­ists. Then see Marcel Duch­amp, Ed­ward Hopper, Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko and Roy Lichtenstein.

Picasso, Architect’s Table, 1912 

Finally, newer developments in art, from Minimalism to Post Modern­ism and into early C21th art, display ideas at the NGV that in­form cultural and nat­ional identity.

The exhibition explores the growth of major art move­ments and represents 130+ years of radical artistic innovation. It reflects the wider technological, social & pol­it­ical movements that transformed C20th society and contributed to the form­at­ion of our C21st globalised world. And it reveals the ways in which art­ists have sought to be agents of change, transforming society and creating new worlds. There is a scholarly catalogue, a prog­ram­me of talks, tours and events, and the curated NGV Friday Nights programmes.

MoMA in New York is the perfect supplier of innovative art because it is the major museum of modern art anywhere, att­ract­ing 3+ million visitors annually. MoMA was the first museum to recognise photography, cinema, arch­itecture and indus­t­rial design as dedicated depart­ments that belong in an art museum.

Kahlo, Self Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940

The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 is the perfect recipient of inn­ovative art because it is oldest and most visited public art museum in Australia. The collection has 70,000+ art works from many centuries and cultures! Additionally the 2018 Winter Masterpieces Exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the new NGV’s St Kilda Road galleries.