SAN FRANCISCO, CA (September 12, 2018) — TED prize winner, Oscar nominee, and one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2018, French artist JR began tagging buildings in Paris as a teenager. Eventually shifting from graffiti to photo-based work after finding a camera in the Paris Metro, JR has become known for creating large-scale portraits that he pastes on buildings, streets, rooftops, trains and trucks, in projects that have taken him around the world. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) today announces the presentation of the artist’s first major San Francisco installation, a video mural entitled The Chronicles of San Francisco that will open on May 23, 2019, in the museum’s Roberts Family Gallery, a free space off of the entrance at Howard Street.
“For several years I have been contemplating how the work of a contemporary artist who started in the streets might be brought into our galleries,” said Neal Benezra, Helen and Charles Schwab Director of SFMOMA. “From 1930, when our founding director, Grace McCann Morley, persuaded Diego Rivera to come to San Francisco to complete a series of mural commissions, our city has been home to a rich and expressly democratic tradition of paintings made for the public. JR’s project, which captures a unique portrait of our extraordinary and idiosyncratic city, is the perfect opportunity to bring art from the street into our museum’s free art-filled ground floor.”
Inspired by the murals of Diego Rivera, JR sought to create a portrait of San Francisco through his art. In January and February 2018, the artist and his team transformed a 53-foot trailer truck into a photographic studio, and parked it in 22 pre-determined locations across the length and breadth of San Francisco, welcoming anyone who wished to participate. As a result, nearly 1,200 people — including well known public figures such as former San Francisco mayor and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and Golden State Warriors basketball star Draymond Green, as well as members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, doctors, swimmers, homeless men and women, shop vendors, protesters, children and many other San Franciscans — have been filmed, photographed and interviewed.
Following the de-installation of Richard Serra’s sculpture, Sequence, the completed work, The Chronicles of San Francisco, will be displayed as a digital photo-collage scrolling across a seamless span of screens stretching over 100 feet in SFMOMA’s Roberts Family Gallery. Immediately afterward, in the summer of 2020, the museum will present Diego Rivera’s mural Pan American Unity in the same space in conjunction with a major exhibition of Rivera’s work.
In celebration of The Chronicles of San Francisco, JR will give a free public talk on Thursday, September 27 at 7 p.m. in the museum’s Phyllis Wattis Theater. He will discuss his sweeping body of work as well as give a special preview of the forthcoming installation at SFMOMA. This program is part of SFMOMA’s Phyllis Wattis Distinguished Lecture Series. Visit sfmoma.org/event/artist-talk-jr for more information.
Born in Paris in 1983, JR began his career as a teenage graffiti artist making his mark on public space in precarious locations such as rooftops and subway trains. After finding a camera in the Paris Metro in 2001, the artist began to document his peers in the act of graffiti painting and soon started pasting these photographs on outdoor walls throughout the city.
In a few short years, JR’s practice attracted international attention, and he began launching projects throughout France and in countries around the world. In 2006, he created Portrait of a Generation — enormous-scale portraits of young people from the neighborhoods where the 2005 French riots took place — that he pasted throughout bourgeois districts of Paris. This illegal project was eventually supported by the city, and the portrait series was wrapped around Paris City Hall. Ten years later, Portrait of a Generation was the inspiration for Les Bosquets, JR’s collaboration with the New York City Ballet. Together with his friend Marco, JR embarked on Face 2 Face in 2007. Through this project, JR posted huge portraits of Israelis and Palestinians face to face in eight Palestinian and Israeli cities. In 2008, the artist initiated a long international trip across Africa, Asia and South America, beginning in Rio de Janeiro for Women Are Heroes, in which he paid tribute to women in areas of conflict by photographing close-up portraits of their eyes and faces and pasting large-scale reproductions on homes and buildings throughout their cities. From this project, JR directed his first feature documentary, Women Are Heroes, which was presented at Cannes in 2010.
JR was awarded the TED Prize in 2011, which inspired the project Inside Out: The People’s Art Project — an international participatory art project that encourages people worldwide to have their picture taken and posted in public spaces in an effort to share stories, experiences and beliefs. In 2013, his film based on Inside Out premiered at Tribeca Film Festival. This project also inspired JR’s installation covering the dome, cupola and floor of the Pantheon in Paris in 2014. Inside Out has continued to grow with mobile photo studios operating in the streets of New York, Amsterdam, London and Paris. As of September 2018, over 350,000 people from more than 140 countries participated.
JR received his first museum retrospectives in 2013 at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Toyko, and the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, followed by presentations at Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden in 2014 and the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation in Hong Kong in 2015.
Commissioned by the Louvre in 2016, JR created a photo-installation that camouflaged the museum’s famous I.M. Pei–designed pyramid with a precise scan of the Pavilion Sully located behind it. Also in 2016, the artist worked with the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro to cover the streets with large-scale photo-installations of athletes in motion; the Centre Pompidou to create an exhibition and workshop to help children discover photography; and the Palais de Toyko in Paris where he collaborated with Brazillian artist twins Os Gemeos on the Lasco Project, a permanent installation on display in the underground chambers of the museum. In 2018 JR received his first Oscar nomination after partnering with pioneering filmmaker Agnès Varda to create the documentary Faces Places.
The Chronicles of San Francisco is made possible by Lynne and Marc Benioff.
Generous support for the exhibition is provided by Ivette and Charles Esserman and Laura Scher and Ian Altman. Additional support is provided by Wayee Chu and Ethan Beard. SFMOMA’s Art Commissioning Endowed Fund is supported by Roberta and Steve Denning, Patricia W. Fitzpatrick, Diana Nelson and John Atwater, and Denise Littlefield Sobel.
The Chronicles of San Francisco installation at SFMOMA is accompanied by a 160-page book featuring individual portraits included in the mural and selected stories from participants, alongside behind-the-scenes photos. Published by Chronicle Books, it includes a foreword by JR and contributions from Neal Benezra, Anne-Marie Litak and Eyal Levy, as well as a removable poster that showcases the entire mural. Visit chroniclebooks.com for more information.
Open Friday–Tuesday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Closed Wednesday.
The Chronicles of San Francisco mural by artist JR will be free to the public during business hours. The work will be located in the Roberts Family Gallery on SFMOMA’s free ground floor.