For the elusive French artist and activist known simply as JR, the streets are an art gallery and the citizens are its curators. For the past two decades, his monumental black-and-white “pastings” of everyday people have transformed buildings in New York, walls in Palestine, slums in Kenya, and favelas in Rio de Janeiro, urging viewers to engage, connect, and view things from a different perspective.
It all started when he was a teenager in Paris and began tagging his name on rooftops; after finding a camera on the Metro, he began taking portraits and pasting them around the city. “I realized the power of paper and glue,” he said during his 2011 TED talk. Most recently, he has focused on issues of immigration and national borders, making headlines for his Kikito installation, where a larger-than-life giggling toddler appeared over the U.S. border with Mexico.
And while he’s most comfortable working outside the traditional art system, JR regularly shows with museums and galleries too. Last year, his buzzworthy first New York gallery exhibition at Perrotin included a series of thought-provoking prints and films as well as a poignant rooftop performance with singer Alicia Keys. Next up is a secret project at the Louvre in Paris, the details of which will be unveiled in late March. “JR’s work brings people together and sheds light on deeply rooted, humanitarian subjects,” says Peggy Leboeuf, a partner at Perrotin New York. “He navigates between the physical, political and social, impacting so many viewers in so many cities around the world in a uniquely thought-provoking manner along the way.”
Last year, his buzzworthy exhibition at Perrotin included a series of thought-provoking prints and films as well as a poignant rooftop performance with singer Alicia Keys. Next up is a secret project at the Louvre in Paris, the details of which will be unveiled in late March.
A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2019 Spring Issue under the headline Creative Minds. Subscribe to the magazine.