In May of 2018, I was walking home on Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy when I stumbled across a JR shoot in progress. Always eager to have a world-famous artist take my picture, I got on the surprisingly short line and within ten minutes was standing in the back of a 53-foot truck that had been converted into a high-tech, green-screen studio. JR and his crew asked me what I would like to do for the photo, how I wanted to be depicted in what they said would be a massive "participatory mural" going up in the Brooklyn Museum, and I said: "I want to dance!"
Last night the museum hosted a special preview of JR: Chronicles, a retrospective of the artist's work over the years and around the world that will be on display into next spring, and all of the thousand or so people who participated in the NYC project were invited. "The Chronicles of New York City," as the piece is called, is basically an enormous collage of people—shot individually in the back of that truck as it spent a month traveling all over town—assembled to create the wildest block party you've ever seen. Or, to be honest, just an everyday NYC street scene, in all of its glorious bustle and beauty, grit, glamour, and diversity. You could spend an hour staring at this thing and still keep finding something new.
There's a storytelling component to the piece as well. After being photographed we were all asked to say something about ourselves, and our relationship with NYC, and those brief recordings (mine is 30 seconds long) are accessible at a dozen or so touch screens fixed around the room. Just scroll around and zoom in and tap on anyone to hear their story. These touch screens are also a good way to explore the upper reaches of the two-story mural in greater detail.
"The Chronicles of New York City" may be the exhibition's centerpiece, but in the galleries throughout the museum's Great Hall there are photographs and videos from JR's two-decade career. There are scenes from his Woman Are Heroes series in Kenya, Liberia, and the favelas of Rio de Janeiro; his Face 2 Face project in the walled cities of Israel and Palestine; his Gigantic Picnic at the US-Mexico border fence; and his other recent digital collages, in Montreal, San Francisco, and the one that was on the Bowery Wall last year called Guns In America.
There's also a long wall of videos from JR's long-running, international Inside Out Project, in which he pulls up somewhere in his box truck and takes headshots of all comers on a dotted background, then wheatpastes the results in a prominent location where they're left to rip, fade, and decay. As it turns out, I'm also in the short film here about the Times Square Inside Out event in 2013, an impressive two-for-two in wheedling my way into JR's public shoots in NYC. And don't you miss out this time! The Inside Out truck will be taking photos in front of the museum tonight (Thursday, October 3rd) from 7 until 9 p.m., and again this Saturday night, October 5th, from 5:30 to 9 p.m.
JR: Chronicles will be at the Brooklyn Museum's Great Hall from October 4th through May 3rd.