The new exhibition JR: Chronicles at the Brooklyn Museum, which opens tomorrow, is artist JR’s largest solo museum exhibition to date and the first major exhibition of his works in North America. For those still unfamiliar with JR, the visual artist who started his career in Paris has been bestowed with the TED Prize, an Oscar nomination, and named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2018. A part of the new exhibition, and the most visually arresting part of the exhibition, is the premier of a new floor to ceiling murals — The Chronicles of New York City — in the Grand Hall of the museum. It shows more than 1,000 people who were photographed and interviewed in New York City in the summer of 2018 as JR and his team drove a 53-foot trailer equipped with a green screen in New York City. The resulting collage is representative of the latest evolution of JR’s work, a unique blend of photography, storytelling, social engagement and street art.
The Chronicles of New York City, part of a series of participatory murals inspired by the work of Diego Rivera that JR has been exploring since 2017, is both a collage of every day New Yorkers and of its places. Look closely and you’ll see people of all colors and ages, tourists and locals, people at work and at leisure, above ground perching off of buildings or inside them or inside a subway, at the beach or crossing the street. You will see the Williamsburg Bridge, Empire State Building, 1 World Trade Center and the skyline of Tribeca. There’s a brownstone, the Hotel Tudor, and a water tower with one of JR’s famous eyes peering out. The industrial waterfront is there, but also a beach. Even a seaplane makes it in. Everyone is striving for something though, looking out to an undefined point or en route to another place inside the mural. If focused inwards, the movement is still collective — a group selfie moment or group chat.
The rest of the exhibition move chronologically over the last fifteen years, using video, large-scale photography, elements from his studio to show his process. We begin with his early photographic projects documenting street artists in Paris and pasting them in the streets, leading to Portrait of a Generation in the suburb of Montfermeil, where the country’s largest riots took place in 2005 stemming from socioeconomic unrest and the relationship between the police and the community.
Face 2 Face
In 2005 he began his work on the Palestinian and Israeli border with Face 2 Face, pasting giant portrait diptychs on both sides, often in humorous expressions, showing the faces of those who lived on the opposite side of the wall side by side with those on the same side to demonstrate the similarities. According to the Brooklyn Museum, it was the largest illegal photography exhibit ever made in Israel at that time covering over eight cities. An evolution of concept was deployed on the United States-Mexico border in 2017 in a project called Migrants, culminating in a dinner shared across the border.
This work evolved into Women are Heroes, most notably with the eyes of local women pasted onto the buildings of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro for which he won the TED Prize. Using those funds, he launched Inside Out, perhaps the project he is most well-known for, taking the efforts global encouraging and providing the equipment and means necessary for people to have their photo taken and pasted in public spaces. As of this summer, over 400,000 people have taken part in more than 141 counties.
Video with moving physical parts to show the Kikito project on the US-Mexico border
Here in New York City, he transformed and brought back to life the abandoned hospitals on Ellis Island, pasting life-size photographs of Ellis Island taken when it was in operation. [Untapped Cities offers hard hat tours of Ellis Island, including one that focuses specifically on seeing all the works by JR]. His Inside Out project and truck has been seen in Times Square, Fordham University, at The Point in the Bronx, and more. Walking New York was a collaboration with the New York Times, with an enormous man pasted onto Flatiron Plaza, and 15 other works scattered through the five boroughs. Guns in America was a mural on the Bowery and in Brooklyn that was adapted from cover JR created for Time Magazine (for which the work was nominated for a News & Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding New Approaches: Current News). And most recently, you can find one of his pieces on the side of the Hudson Theater.
The new exhibition JR: Chronicles at the Brooklyn Museum will run from October 4, 2019 to May 3, 2020.
Next, check out 10 Past and Present JR Works in NYC.