JR: The Chronicles of San Francisco

In his latest project, on display at SFMOMA through 2020, the French artist JR dedicates a 100-foot digital mural to the city of San Francisco and its many residents.

JR, 36, has come a long way since his teenage years as a graffiti artist in Paris. After finding a lost camera in the Métro, he began taking pictures of other taggers and turning the photos into street posters, small-scale versions of the monumental projects for which he is now renowned. These have included displaying immense portraits of Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank barrier, papering a favela in Rio de Janeiro with huge photos of the eyes of local women, sticking giant portraits of New Yorkers to the pavement in Times Square, and covering walls in cities as diverse as Shanghai, Los Angeles, and Havana with the outsized faces of elderly residents. Their images thus magnified and incorporated into the urban landscape, these individuals emerge from the anonymous mass, their humanity impossible to ignore.

A recipient of numerous awards, including the 2011 TED Prize, JR is also the creator of a photo installation on Ellis Island based on archival photos of immigrants, a project that was made into a book and a short film starring Robert De Niro. In 2017, he roamed across France with iconic Nouvelle Vague director Agnès Varda, and the resulting poetic road movie, Faces Places, received the award for best documentary film at Cannes.

Jr-The-Chronicles-of-San Francisco

JR, The Chronicles of San Francisco, Glass #3, USA, 2018.

For two months in early 2018, JR filmed and interviewed nearly 1,200 San Franciscans from all different neighborhoods and backgrounds with the ultimate goal of representing the city and its people in a single work. The end result, a digital mural scrolling across a seamless bank of screens stretching more than 100 feet, will be displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through April 2020.

Earlier this year, an exhibition at Pace Gallery’s Palo Alto branch titled The Chronicles of San Francisco – Sketches took viewers behind the scenes of this ambitious project. Photographs, preparatory drawings, and other work-in-progress pieces show how countless portraits and scenery shots are compiled into a single image. Video installations and lightboxes zero in on individual sections of the mural, revealing the parts to be as great as the sum. The intimate scale of the exhibition highlights JR’s overarching approach to the mural, which could just as easily apply to his work as a whole: “Every person is presented as the same size, captured with the same light. No one is more important than another.”

The Chronicles of San Francisco

From May 23, 2019, through April 27, 2020
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco, CA