Street Artist JR Plasters the Paris Panthéon with Portraits

28 June 2014

The secular temple of The Pantheon in Paris is home to the remains of thousands of France’s famous sons and daughters including Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, and Zola.  During the long overdue restoration of the vast shrine it was decided allow a contemporary project to take place in its environs to help mask some of the renovations. The ‘photograffeur’ and street artist JR collected thousands of portraits of everyday French people and has created one of the largest photographic collages the world has ever seen.

The photos were collected between February and March by a photobooth truck which visited eight of France’s major monuments.  The portraits reflect the diversity of the contemporary world and many of the photographs were uploaded from outside France via the artist’s website, Au Pantheon!

JR was asked to participate as the Panthéon’s guardians felt he reflected the humanistic and universal values embodied by the Panthéon. Perhaps there is a certain irony that this colossal mausoleum, containing the remains of distinguished French citizens is now also the home to images of thousands of anonymous people – the eminent rub shoulders with the unknown. Yet this irony does, in my opinion, add to rather than detract from the place’s mission and meaning.

Image Credit Flickr User Yann Caradec
Image Credit Flickr User Yann Caradec
The massive mosaic is visible on the exterior of the building, on its drum.  On the inside, visitors can see it beneath the dome and in a variety of other places but perhaps the most eye-catching is the massive ‘faceway’ the artist has created down the aisle which runs through the heart of the pantheon.

Image Credit Flickr User Yann Caradec
Image Credit Flickr User Yann Caradec
Image Credit Flickr User Yann Caradec
This is possibly the highpoint of JR’s ongoing ‘Inside Out Project’ and if not, one can only wonder where he will take it next.  The project asks people to take their picture and paste it up in their community to give disseminate a message or idea, making a statement about what they stand for or hold dear. The truth is that the project has already taken on a life of its own and is essentially outside of the artist’s hands and now consists of hundreds of thousands of portraits displayed on walls worldwide.

Image Credit Flickr User Yann Caradec
Image Credit Flickr User Yann Caradec
Altogether over 10,000 images were gathered and then the process of elimination had to begin.  JR chose to halve the amount, based on the quality of the photographs and the expressions of the models.  Many had to be discounted because of blurring, a few because the model had chosen to accompany their portrait with an obscene gesture (one can only wonder, despite the innate humor here, why they bothered!).

Image Credit Flickr User Dalbera
On the interior a regular sight is people lying down to take selfies against a backdrop of thousands of other selfies. One does have to ponder whether or not this particular form of self-expression has just eaten itself.

Image Credit Flickr User Claude Colom
Image Credit Flickr User Yann Caradec
The exhibition will continue until October and after that the 4,160 interior portraits which cover 3,000 square meters will have to find a new home.  The tarpaulin outside the exterior will remain until next year when, it is hoped, the restoration of the Panthéon will be complete.  Perhaps some small vestigial part of this huge exhibition can be retained after this date.

Image Credit Flickr User Yann Caradec
First Image Credit Flickr User Leo Reynolds


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