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Brooklyn Museum hosting largest solo museum exhibition of French street artist JR

An exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum looks at the career of French photographer and street artist artist JR, and includes a new mural of New York City featuring over 1,000 people, based on a project photographing and interviewing New Yorkers during the summer of 2018.

JR started as a graffiti artist in Paris, where he was born in 1983 to Eastern European and Tunisian immigrant parents. He would find a camera in the Paris Metro in 2001 and start recording his friends making graffiti.

A JR photo at the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, of a graffiti artist in the early 2000s.

JR started pasting his photos onto building facades in the city, around 2001-4. He then worked on a project to paste portraits of young people from a housing project in a Paris suburb in the area and throughout Paris. There had been nationwide riots in 2005 related to socioeconomic tensions, and the aim was to show young people who often aren’t represented, or are misrepresented, in the media, the exhibition notes.

The show, called “JR: Chronicles,” also includes JR expanding his projects internationally, such as in 2005 when he posted portraits of Israelis and Palestinians on either side of the wall and in surrounding towns, considered the biggest illegal photo exhibition in Israel at the time. Portraits included pairs of people living on opposite sides of the wall who worked in the same profession, and without labelling who was from which side.

A section of JR’s project that posted portraits of Israelis and Palestinians on the wall. (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum)

Another international project was “Women Are Heroes,” done in 2008-10, where large-scale portraits of women’s eyes and faces were posted in public spaces in communities. The first one was in Rio de Janeiro, in an area where three young men died and riots ensued, ignited by the involvement of the Brazilian military, the exhibition notes.

JR did other versions in Cambodia, India, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and in Kenya, where he visited a poor neighborhood and worked with the community to cover rooftops with water-resistant vinyl that featured portraits taken of local women, as a way to both display the art and protect people from the rain.

Water-resistant vinyl was put on rooftops in Kibera, Kenya. (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum)

“I search with my art to install the work in improbable places,” JR is quoted as saying in the exhibition, “to create with the communities projects that promote questioning … and to offer alternative images to those of the global media.”

A 2017 project included holding a giant picnic that spanned across both sides of the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, with a portrait of a “Dreamer” named Mayra printed on the canvas.

Migrants, Mayra, Picnic across the Border, Tecate, Mexico—U.S.A., 2017, JR. Wheat-pasted poster on table. © JR-ART.NET (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum)

On a building post in the museum’s spacious exhibit, a quote from JR reads, “In the street, my work reaches people who may not go to museums.”

A building column in the exhibition space. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Large murals of his NYC collages are featured as a work, called “The Chronicles of New York City,” based on interviews and photos taken in the summer of 2018, when JR visited all five boroughs and invited people to be photographed and share their stories and their feelings about New York.

Along with the giant murals, a video is included in the exhibit that shows the development of the project and some of the participants. There are also audio recordings of each person’s story.  

“JR: Chronicles” will be at the Brooklyn Museum until May 3, 2020.

Gabe Herman