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JR is an artist who got his start on the streets of Paris and now can be seen all over the world. With an impressive Instagram following, gallery representation and connections including celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Robert Di Nero, not to mention various prestigious awards and nominations for his documentary Places Faces, JR has a particular level of visibility that not many artists have. That said, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of his work is that it lives in the public sphere, intended to endure the elements and often has a very unique way of reflecting the place where it’s been installed. Currently on view at Galerie Perrotin is Horizontal a multimedia exhibition providing a peek into, as well as documentation of, the artist’s practice.

Most of what JR does in the public sphere is made using wheat-paste, a medium that has been employed by street artists for decades. He often uses human subjects. People he’s met in each respective city, and then finds ways to divide facial features and reassemble them utilizing local architecture. In dialogue with street art, JR, through his relationship with the gallery, is able to work on a monumental scale, accessing buildings and places many others would never have the chance to occupy.

“I started taking photos of my friends doing graffiti when I was 17 years old,” says JR. “Around that time, riots started happening in France in the neighborhood where we’d hang out. A big media agency contacted me because I had a different level of access to the riots, and in that moment I decided to be an artist,” he recalls. “I told them they could use my footage only if portraits I took of the community and the wheat-pasting we did were featured [prominently] along with the film coverage. Six months later they came back, asking me if they could publish the portraits, and it was the first time my work was explained in a cohesive, visual context.”

In Horizontal, the artist unveils various projects he’s made over the years, documented through scale models, photography and film. Through cinematography, perhaps his strongest medium, he captures various site-specific projects he’s made over the course of a decade, also creating and nurturing a narrative. The story of each of his films, shown in a loop, reveals more about his wheat-pasting and photography in a way that feels extremely inclusive. JR’s work is truly geared towards the public and an open-air environment. The exhibition at Galerie Perrotin is curated for collectors and fans of the artist who perhaps are unable to visit his installations in-situ. Instead, they have the chance to live with a nuanced replica or blueprint in a cyclical process where the public becomes private, the collective experience, domestic.

What makes JR’s work so special is that he looks at people—truly looks. In turn, we as viewers are able to look as well, but not in a way that speaks to otherness, but rather as an invitation into the familiarity of humanness and what it means to be alive.

Words Katy Diamond Hamer

Photography courtesy of the artist & Perrotin © Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli

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