Architecture, Exhibitions

JR makes The Louvre invisible

Image © JR, courtesy The Louvre

JR has chosen the biggest gallery in the world to showcase his art: public spaces. Now he's taken on IM Pei’s glass entrance canopy in the courtyard of the vast Paris museum, to remarkable effect.

Chinese architect IM Pei’s glass entrance, first unveiled in 1989, was seen by Parisians, at first, as a tacky, unwanted gimmick, unworthy of the home of the Mona Lisa.

Now, 27 years later, The Louvre’s transparent Pyramid is indivisible with one of Paris’ most iconic landmarks.

So what better target for the photographic iconoclast JR. The 33-year-old started out as a graffiti artist from the Banlieues – he grew up in Les Bosquets, the son of an Arabic man and French woman. His public artwork is now very quickly becoming rather iconic in itself.

For some ten years now, the artist’s photographic collages have been appearing on the walls of cities all over the world.

He covered the wall that separates Israeli and Palestinian communities with hundreds of portraits  – Palestinians on the Israeli side, Israelis on the Palestinian side. The intended result was both obvious and, nevertheless, deeply powerful, for no-one could tell the difference between the two sides.

He covered Paris’ Pantheon with images of the city’s street-level people. One of the city’s grandest, most ornate people, covered with the expressions of normal, and, usually, poor and marginalised people – street cleaners, kitchen staff, dustbin men – those who work backstage, yet make such a resplendent capital city tick.

Then, at the height of the Refugee crisis, he displayed a pregnant refugee as she prepares to give birth. She was spread out on the Seine embankment, half a mile from the upmarket district of Ile Saint-Louis.

“The most important thing,” he said in an interview with the Guardian, “is where I put my photos and the meaning they take on depending on the place”.

Now, he has covered the Parisian landmark with a gigantic paper photograph of the museum.

JR said he hoped this optical illusion would reignite the debate on modernism that divided French society when this monument was designed in the 1980s.

“When arriving at the Louvre, people will all notice the absence and I’m curious to see how they will react,” added the French artist. “Hundreds of tourists take selfies with the pyramid everyday, so I wanted to make it harder for them. I want them to actively look for it and talk to each other while moving around to find the best spot to take the picture.”

Known only by his initials, JR has displayed his work on city walls in Brazil, China, Cuba, Sierra Leone and the U.S., from the favelas of Rio and slums of Kenya, to New York, Le Havre and Shanghai.

“His spectacular mode of intervention poses questions about artistic creation, the role of images in the age of globalization, and their widespread use, from intimate circles to mass distribution,” the Louvre said of the artist’s work in a statement.

Titled JR au Louvre, the artwork is comprised of photographic prints of the museum itself, stuck to the glass exterior. When viewed from just the right vantage point, it creates an illusion of the pyramid seeming to vanish.

“The street is an open air museum” says JR.  “My work allows the transmission of past stories to better understand the present and find echo with the times,” says JR.  “There is only one point of view that will see the work in its entirety, and other angles that will deconstruct.” 

The JR installation at the Louvre is on view in the French capital until June 27.