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Groninger Museum to host survey exhibition of artist JR’s work

Wednesday 22 September 2021
JR (French, born 1983). GIANTS, Kikito and the Boarder Patrol, Tecate, Mexico—U.S.A., 2017.
JR (French, born 1983). GIANTS, Kikito and the Boarder Patrol, Tecate, Mexico—U.S.A., 2017. © Installation image. Wheat-pasted poster. ©️ JR-ART.NET

The Groninger Museum goes large with a survey exhibition of the work of the French artist JR from 20 November 2021 to 12 June 2022. Encompassing murals, films, videos and archival material, JR: Chronicles is JR’s first museum show in the Netherlands. It spans an impressive career, from the early graffiti art he made as a teenager in Paris to his more recent socially engaged projects and large-scale architectural interventions in cities around the world. The exhibition was organized by the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

Over the past two decades, JR has expanded the meaning of public art with his ambitious, socially engaged projects. As a photographer, he brings visibility to a broad spectrum of people and communities all over the world and shines a light on their problems. By focusing on these “invisible” people, he creates a platform for their stories. He reproduces their individual portraits at a monumental scale and wheatpastes them in public space, sometimes illegally. JR’s projects honour the voices of everyday people and demonstrate his commitment to community, cooperation and dialogue.

Social art
JR began his career in 2004 with the photo series Portrait of a Generation. It came about after the film director Ladj Ly invited JR to cooperate on a project in the Paris suburb of Montfermeil, where Ly lived at the time. The duo aimed to poke fun at the media's caricatured portrayal of young people in the banlieues. In the photo Ly appears to be pointing a gun at the viewer, but on closer inspection it proves to be a camera. When rioting broke out in the Paris suburbs in 2005 following the death of two youths, the photo was reproduced countless times in newspapers and on TV.

In response to the construction of a permanent wall between the United States and Mexico, JR created a massive installation in 2017 at the border fence in the Mexican city of Tecate. It consists of an image of Kikito, a toddler whose home in Tecate overlooks the wall. Lacking any awareness of politics, the curious little boy peeks playfully over the barrier from his side. The work symbolises the innocence of young immigrants. The day before it was due to be dismantled, JR organised a cross-border picnic. Kikito, his family and hundreds of guests from the United States and Mexico came together to share a meal. Gathered around a long table decorated with JR’s iconic eyes that extended across the fence, they ate the same food, drank the same water and listened to the same music. The border patrol came to stop the project and threatened to arrest all the guests, but when they saw the positive action with their own eyes, they decided not to.

For another project, Women Are Heroes, JR travelled with his camera to shoot portraits of women in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya; Monrovia, Liberia; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Jaipur, India. The photographs emphasise the women's vitality, not their poverty. According to JR, it’s the women who sustain their communities, though the men are more visible on the streets. He pasted up the portraits in public spaces in the slums and elsewhere – on the walls of churches and mosques, on buses and trains, on the floor of an empty swimming pool. In the Nairobi slum of Kibera he affixed sheets of vinyl printed with photographs of women's eyes to the roofs of dozens of houses, instantly waterproofing them.

JR also won fame for Inside Out, an international art project which he announced during his TED Prize acceptance in March 2011. He invited members of the public to upload photographic self-portraits, which he then printed out and sent back so they could be pasted up locally. Over the past decade more than 400,000 people in more than 138 countries have taken part in the project.

An exhibition catalogue, JR: Chronicles, will be available in Dutch and English. Published by WBOOKS, it is on sale in the museum shop and elsewhere for €29.95.

JR: Chronicles is organised by the Brooklyn Museum. It is curated by Sharon Matt Atkins, the museum’s deputy director for art, and Drew Sawyer, its Philip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian curator of photography.

Graffiti from New York and Groningen
In the 1980s, under then director Frans Haks, the Groninger Museum was one of the first museums in the world to recognise graffiti and street art as legitimate art forms and to begin collecting them. Alongside JR: Chronicles, two of the permanent collection galleries will be showcasing work by leading artists from the New York scene, including NOC 167, Dondi, Blade, Quik and Phase 2. The museum will also spotlight Groningen’s own graffiti art in photographs and films from the early days. The show is curated by Stichting Kladmuur, led by Aileen Middel (aka the graffiti artist Mick La Rock) and Hugo Engwerda. Mick La Rock and OD Crew are creating two new works for the exhibition.

Like JR, the Groninger Museum sometimes works outside its own walls, and it will involve the city and region in a large-scale participatory art project. The museum will work together with cultural institutions and local residents to create photography, street art and graffiti events. JR’s Inside Out, featuring portraits of local people, will be an important part of the project.