The Musealization of Street Art: Changing Space, Shifting Perception

JR and His Photography

     Like Invader, street artist and photographer JR (1983-Paris, France) is based out of Paris. He is well known for his multiple politically charged art campaigns, such as Women are Heroes and his Inside Out Project. His latest projects have been invited into formal spaces, such as the Pantheon in Paris and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York. JR is unique in his approach and is very public about his projects. As is the case with his Inside Out project, JR often relies on the local community where he is working as subjects for his photographs, and/or as help in installing his work. His photographs can be found across the western world and he has even sent his work around the globe on a freighter, which served as the venue for his Women are Heroes campaign, which spanned from 2008-2010. As such, JR is the perfect candidate to represent photography as Street Art.

     JR is the pseudonym of a French photographer who, whether in his own photographs or those of others, always appears wearing dark sunglasses and a hat. He began his career as a graffiti artist as a teenager, with the sole intent on making his mark on public spaces, completely uninterested in changing the world. After finding a camera on a Paris metro, JR began photographing his and his friend’s adventures tagging neighborhoods in Paris. At the age of 17, he began to print off copies of his photographs and affix them to the walls of the city.[1] Later, JR travelled across Europe to meet artists who similarly used city walls as venues for their artistic expression. Having learned from and photographed these artists, JR returned to Paris and pasted up large format photographs of them across the city. Between 2004 and 2006 JR posted portraits of ‘suburban thugs’ in huge formats across the bourgeois districts of Paris, entitling the project Portraits of a Generation. In 2006 the project became officially recognized by the city of Paris when the Paris City Hall wrapped JR’s images around its building.[2]

     In 2007, in collaboration with a fellow photographer, JR embarked on the largest illegal exhibition to date. In his description of the Face 2 Face project on his website, JR explains that he and an artist by the name of Marco travelled through Israeli and Palestinian cities, and came to the conclusion that ‘these people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families. A religious covered woman has her twin sister on the other side. A farmer, a taxi driver, a teacher, has his twin brother in front of him. And he is endlessly fighting with him’.[3] On describing their project they stated: ‘It’s obvious [that they are similar] but they don’t see that’.[4] Their goal then was to put the inhabitants of the cities face to face in order for them to realize their similarities. With his Face 2 Face project, they placed portraits of Palestinians and Israelis next to each other on either side of the Separation Wall in eight Palestinian cities. JR asked people with similar occupations, taxi drivers, athletes, sculptors, etc. to express similar emotions and he would then place those portraits, one of an Israeli, the other of a Palestinian, next to each other. His aim was to highlight the similarity between the people living on opposite sides of the wall.  His larger than life portraits of people on city walls ‘challenge widely held preconceptions and the reductive images propagated by advertising and the media’.[5]

     In addition to the two aforementioned early projects, JR has successfully completed five more large-scale projects and collaborated with many artists around the world. Additionally, he has been commissioned to bring his work into public spaces and, since 2007 has been included in thirty-five exhibitions worldwide.[6]
 

[1] TED Talks, My Wish: Use Art to Turn the World Inside Out, 2011 <https://www.ted.com/talks/jr_s_ted_prize_wish_use_art_to_turn_the_world_inside_out> [accessed 21 September 2016].
 
[2] ‘JR’, JR - Artist, 2016 <http://www.jr-art.net/jr> [accessed 18 September 2016].
 
[3] ‘Face 2 Face’, JR - Artist, 2016 <http://www.jr-art.net/projects/face-2-face> [accessed 21 September 2016].
 
[4] ibid.
 
[5] ‘Street Art, Artists’, Tate.org.uk, 2016 <http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/street-art/street-art-artists> [accessed 21 September 2016].
 
[6] ‘Exhibitions | JR – Artist’, Jr-art.net, 2016 <http://www.jr-art.net/exhibitions> [accessed 21 September 2016].

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