PROSPECT HEIGHTS – JR: Chronicles opens at the Brooklyn Museum on Friday, October 4, presenting several of the artist’s international projects from the past 15 years as well as a new mural, The Chronicles of New York City.
JR is known for traveling the world and creating large-scale photo-based works that address social issues including women’s rights, immigration, religion, and gun control. He collaborates with locals from communities he visits—photographing and interviewing them—and wheat pastes their images onto public walls and structures. The 36-year-old French artist won the TED Prize in 2011, received an Oscar nomination in 2018 for the documentary Faces Places, and was one of Time Magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People of 2018.
JR started as a graffiti artist in his youth before finding a camera on the Paris Metro in 2001. He began photographing his friends as they tagged, then started pasting his photos on public walls, framing the images with spray paint.
One of his earliest projects, Portrait of a Generation (2004-2006) features photos of residents of Les Bosquets, a housing project in Montfermeil, a Paris suburb. One of these portraits, 28 Millimètres, Portrait d’une génération, Braquage (Holdup), Ladj Ly vu par JR (2004) features an image of his friend Ladj Ly, a filmmaker and a resident of Les Bosquets. JR blew up the image and pasted it on the side of a building at Les Bosquets. In 2005, riots broke out in the neighborhood after two local teens were electrocuted as they hid from police in a power substation during a search. Journalists from around the world went to Les Bosquets to cover the three-week uprising that followed. After appearing in the background of photos in several international newspapers, JR’s image of Ladj Ly became his first published work and launched his career.
Of Portrait of a Generation, JR said in the exhibition notes, “This was before social media made it possible for people to disseminate their own images so easily, so when we posted these portraits in Paris, we were really bringing those faces to neighborhoods where they would otherwise never be seen….”
JR: Chronicles was curated by Brooklyn Museum’s Director of Exhibitions Sharon Matt Atkins and Curator of Photography Drew Sawyer. “JR is an artist who is tackling some of the most pressing issues that we’re facing today, from immigration to gun control,” Atkins told Bklyner. “He ties very much into the museum’s mission of tackling conversations that are on everyone’s minds.” She noted that the exhibition focuses on the artist’s “collaborations with communities and giving visibility and voice to those communities.”
“It really goes deep into his practice and shows his commitment to these projects, issues, and communities,” Sawyer said, adding that a section dedicated to Casa Amarela was among one of his favorite parts of the exhibit. In 2009, JR collaborated with the photographer and historian, Mauricio Hora, in establishing Casa Amarela (Yellow House), an arts center in Morro da Providência, Brazil.
“It’s an important part that maybe a lot of people don’t know about JR’s practice, that he has set up foundations, art schools in many of the places where he’s been involved,” Sawyer said. He noted that in January 2020, JR and Ladj Ly will open a new school in Clichy Montfermeil.
The centerpiece of JR: Chronicles is the debut of The Chronicles of New York City. Inspired by the murals of Diego Rivera, JR and his team spent a month last summer traveling the five boroughs in a 53-foot-long trailer truck, interviewing and taking photos of New Yorkers who wanted to participate. Each participant was shot in front of a green screen and each image was collaged into an expansive New York City landscape. More than 1,000 locals participated in the project and shared their stories which can be heard on a free mobile app.
“I love The Chronicles of New York City,” said Atkins. “There’s so much, in so many layers in this mural…. It really just celebrates the city and how everyone comes to be in the city.”
Before settling in New York City nine years ago, JR traveled the world collaborating with diverse communities and documenting their stories. In 2005, he traveled to Israel and Palestine and started the public art project Face 2 Face which featured diptychs of Israelis and Palestinians. The artist paired the individuals by their profession—doctor, teacher, religious leader—and displayed them on both sides of the border wall, “side by side, without any signifiers indicating which were Israeli and which were Palestinian.” Face 2 Face was considered the “largest illegal photography exhibition ever made in Israel” at the time.
In 2008, JR began his Women Are Heroes (2008-10) project in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, following the death of three men there in which the military was said to be involved. JR photographed the eyes and faces of the local women, including some who were related to the three slain men, and with the help of residents pasted the blown-up images on 40 buildings along the hillside overlooking the slums. JR also created additional Women Are Heroes series in Cambodia, India, Kenya, Liberia, and Sierra Leone from 2008-2010. The projects celebrate the women and honor their contributions to their communities.
From 2008 to 2015, JR traveled to Cartagena, Spain, Berlin, Havana, Istanbul, Los Angeles, and Shanghai for The Wrinkles of the City project, photographing some of the oldest inhabitants of the cities “who had witnessed some of the most significant cultural, social, and economic changes of the twentieth century.” Along with documenting the changes in each of the cities, the series also “challenges cultural perceptions of the elderly by celebrating their aging appearances as beautiful, on a monumental scale.”
After winning the $100K TED Prize in 2011, JR launched Inside Out, a participatory art project that invites the public to submit their own portraits that highlight an issue within their communities. JR’s studio prints the portrait in his signature style and sends the image back to the participants so they can paste it up in their neighborhood. As of July 2019, more than 400,000 people from over 140 countries have participated in the project, according to Brooklyn Museum. The portraits can be submitted to www.insideoutproject.net.
As part of the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, details from JR’s The Chronicles of New York City and Inside Out will be displayed in public spaces throughout the borough, starting next week with a mural at Kings Theatre, followed later in the month with another at 80 Hanson Place in Fort Greene. The museum is currently finalizing details on other locations.
Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Great Hall, Prospect Heights
Exhibition on view October 4, 2019 through May 3, 2020