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Renowned French photographer, activist, and artist JR joined Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu to discuss the power of public art and how he engages with communities around the world to make powerful works of art in the world’s largest art gallery: the streets.
The artist’s unconventional practice of making art for, and with, the masses has taken him across France to Brazil, India, Israel and Palestine, Kenya and the United States. His collage technique allows him to install photographic artwork free of charge on the walls of the world, appealing to people inside and outside of traditional art spheres.
He uses photography, both his own and found images, to promote conversations about how we see other people and critical issues such as immigration, gender and media representation. His socially-oriented practice has spread into the realms of dance and feature films including the Oscar nominated documentary, “Faces Places,” garnering acclaim and awards for his unique methods of storytelling.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
JR exhibits freely in the streets of the world, catching the attention of people who are not typical museum visitors, from the suburbs of Paris to the slums of Brazil to the streets of New York, pasting huge portraits of anonymous people, from Kibera to Istanbul, from Los Angeles to Shanghai.
In 2011 he received the TED Prize, after which he created Inside Out, a global participatory art project that allows people worldwide to get their picture taken and paste it to support an idea and share their experience. As of April 2023, over half a million people from more than 149 countries have participated, through mail or gigantic photobooths.
His projects include a large-scale pasting in a maximum security prison in California, a TIME Magazine cover about Guns in America, a video mural including 1,200 people presented at SFMOMA, a collaboration with New York City Ballet, an Academy Award Nominated feature documentary co-directed with Nouvelle Vague legend Agnès Varda, a huge installation on the Pantheon in Paris, the pasting of a container ship, the pyramid of the Louvre, a monumental mural “à la Diego Rivera” in the suburbs of Paris, giant scaffolding installations at the 2016 Rio Olympics, an exhibition on the abandoned hospital of Ellis Island, a social restaurant for homeless and refugees in Paris or a gigantic installation at the US-Mexico border fence.
As he remains anonymous, JR leaves the space empty for an encounter between the subject/protagonist and the passer-by/interpreter. That is what JR’s work is about, raising questions.
Image Credit: (left-right) Portrait of JR. Photo by Grégoire Machavoine. Tehachapi, Picnic (2022). Photo by JR. Courtesy of the artist.