Exhibition Review: Horizontal, JR

Exhibition Review: Horizontal, JR

By Labanya Maitra

One could almost miss the entrance to Perrotin on the busy Orchard Street if it wasn’t for the 20-foot-tall man peeping into the gallery through the façade. You could sense JR even before you entered the building.

 © Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin

© Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin

The stark white walls were offset by a giant pair of eyes staring out of the desert and across the room. JR is known for his bold work at the US – Mexico border. “People would pass their cellphones to strangers through the wall to take photos,” he said talking about his giant installation of a little boy peeping over the wall. “The core of my work is to only bring people together.”

JR wanted to create a moment at the border with his installation of the enormous eyes. The project was in full swing but Border Patrol denied him permission at the last minute, he said. He decided to go ahead with it anyway. JR and his team set up on the Mexican side of the border with a dinner table with one eye laid on top of it. He used Instagram to let people know that he was there, and eventually, people started showing up on the other side as well. They rolled out the second eye on the other side of the border to complete the set. “I don’t try to do illegal stuff,” he said. “If I could legally, I would.”

 © Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin

© Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin

The actual canvas now hangs along the interior staircase of Perrotin.

The exhibition also featured CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) plates of some of JR’s other installations. As most of his work is free, and all of it unsponsored, collectors have all four CMYK plates to be able to re-create his work.  

JR’s work is hardly confined to photography. It’s also hardly confined to art, and often makes a social commentary. One of his most fascinating pieces is an installation that from afar looks like a generic pair of eyes. Upon closer inspection, however, the eyes are printed on what looks like translucent sheets of Plexiglass that fold over each other, merging the two eyes into one. The eyes don’t belong to one person; one of them is Israeli, one Palestinian. They exist in a realm where art meets reality.

The exhibition features an array of installations modeled after the larger projects undertaken by JR. The most ingenious is one with dozens of rows of miniature trains moving along their individual tracks and coming together to form the signature eye, like a dissonant chord resolving into consonance; it’s music.

“As an artist, you dream of utopia,” said JR walking into the screening room set up on the second floor of the exhibition. “I show films because films are the only trace I keep of my work.” The screenings include Les Bosquets and Ellis, among others.

 © Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin

© Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin

For those who know of JR, his work is unmistakable. But the transience of his art can be seen on decaying walls across the world. The recognition is fleeting and soon they dissolve into the surroundings as if they’ve existed for millennia.

JR’s Horizontal is on display at Perrotin from June 28th to August 17th, 2018, in New York City.

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