Disappearing act: artist JR makes IM Pei’s Louvre pyramid vanish

Disappearing act: artist JR makes IM Pei’s Louvre pyramid vanish

Last week, as a black and white simulacrum of the Louvre’s grand architecture began to mask IM Pei’s pyramid that stands in its forecourt, the person responsible could be found among those already taking photos. French artist JR had positioned himself at the point that the optical illusion – the ‘anamorphose’ – revealed a level of perfection that would have impressed and amused the kings and emperors who had once called this palace home.

JR has been making giant photographic gestures around the world for upwards of a dozen years, often focusing on human faces so that the favela rooftops of Rio di Janeiro or the outside wall of the Tate Modern project groups of people as iconic statements. He puts the graphic into demographics. Yet it’s safe to say this might be his most audacious intervention so far. Here, the glass and steel pyramid becomes camouflaged by an exceedingly precise scan of the Pavilion Sully rising in the background. Consider it an architectural throwback by street art’s most monumental portraitist. 

The Louvre, which has a history of inviting contemporary artists to create a temporary site-specific work, began speaking with JR roughly around a year ago; and while the idea didn’t take long, working through the technical details did. The same specialists who worked on JR’s installation at the Panthéon in 2014 executed the installation of the film.

Up close, the arches, mullions and stonework become an abstracted pattern of Ben-Day dot pixilation (JR noted that the film will not leave residue on the glass once removed). Every element of the entry – from the recessed framing to the door pulls – has been covered with bits of the image to maintain total continuity. Something you won’t see: any corporate logos or sponsorship names. The project was self-funded, an aspect that JR says remains crucial to the way he works.  

‘I couldn’t have been born ten years earlier in the sense that everything I do is with the media of my time. Taking digital photos, sharing them on social networks, traveling to all these destinations around the world, working without brands,’ he tells Wallpaper*. ‘The way in which I work reflects the time in which I live.’

Despite cancelling out a structure that has never won over all Parisians, JR says the project is not intended as a critical commentary. Rather, he’s encouraging people to interact differently with the pyramid, proposing an ephemeral twist to an institution anchored in preservation.

‘This polemic – was it better before – what does that actually mean? I did not know it before; I am of the generation who grew up with the pyramid. This is a question that largely depends on how people have lived with the pyramid,’ he offers.

Still, a brief occasion to imagine the Louvre without its modern addition might fulfil a fantasy for some. For everyone else, because the anamorphic image only covers the pyramid’s outward side, JR’s disruption won’t preclude a view of Pei’s most famous creation in its original state.

But already, people have begun queuing at the spot where the ‘disappearance’ takes place. And for 24 hours from Saturday afternoon through Sunday, JR has invited a roster of artists including Daniel Buren, Felice Varini and Agnès Varda to participate in interactive programming – much of it open to the public.

In this way, the overall project transcends an ambitious stunt to become an part of the collective memory. ‘It’s a little like magic; how will people discuss and share and repeat it – and in a way that’s often changed or amplified from the reality,’ he says. ‘It fascinates me to think of how people will remember the image when it no longer exists.’

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