JR's monumental mural comes to life at SFMOMA

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

On May 23, 2019, internationally acclaimed artist JR opened the Chronicles of San Francisco, his new exhibition presented at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Over the course of two months in early 2018, the artist set up a mobile studio in twenty-two locations around San Francisco, where he filmed and interviewed nearly twelve hundred people from across the city’s multifaceted communities.

The Chronicles of San Francisco by JR, 2019 (Partial view)

JR was born in 1983 and grew up in Montfermeil, in the suburbs of Paris. His story is now public knowledge: JR picked up a camera in the Parisian metro and started his career travelling across Europe to meet with mural and street artists which were shapping those cities. Around that time, JR started to paste portraits in the streets and roofs of Paris. But his true breaktrough happened in 2004 when he pasted big format portraits of youngsters from the suburbs on the walls of Cité des bosquets in Montfermeil. Initially an illegal project, it was endorsed by the city of Paris which brought JR to fame.

In her article "Artist JR opens the door to a new era in art history with his groundbreaking “Chronicles of San Francisco” mural at the SFMOMA", Mélanie Desliens advocates that 'this installation is disruptive on a technical level' because 'the mural is actually a video featuring over 1,200 people portrayed moving in slow motion'. She adds: 'As if a moving mural was not a technological breakthrough in itself, JR announced that he interviewed each individual and that the visitors will be able to listen and watch them through the use of an application. This will give, for the first time in art history, the sitter a voice'.

Those chronicles are not JR's first encouter with San Francisco. He was in San Francisco last February for the first edition of the Night of Ideas at the San Francisco Public Library, where he introduced his Chronicles and spoke about how a whole city can be represented through art.

JR and the attendees of Night of Ideas © Matthias Carette

In the past years, JR has completed many projects around the world such as "Face 2 Face" in Israel and Palestine in 2007, or "WOMEN ARE HEROES" in 2008 in Rio de Janeiro - a project he extented to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kenya, India, Cambodia throughout 2010 and then turned into a documentary. The Chronicles are his first major installation in San Francisco, for which JR draw inspiration from Diego Rivera’s murals found throughout the city.

More details about the exhibition can be found here.

Mélanie Deslien's paper on JR and his place in art history is available here.

Mélanie Desliens Flint lives in San Francisco. She earned masters degrees in marketing from both French and American universities and managed strategic partnerships for Ubisoft. She sits on the board of directors of the French American Cultural Society (FACS).

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