What do you get when you cross a photographer with a graffiti artist? J.R. Or, as the french street artist himself says, a “photograffeur”. If you have never heard of him, that’s just the way he likes it. Most street artists remain anonymous by choice. If you’ve never seen his art, you need to get out more. J.R. may have honed his craft in the infamous Paris banlieus but his prolific work can now be seen all over world. Each new installation tends to go viral.
Street art occasionally moves from outside to in. MOMENTUM, the first major monographic exhibition for J.R. in Paris, is currently at the Maison Europeenne de La Photographie. Until February 10, 2019 hidden aspects of J.R.’s artistic process are revealed through documentaries, models and photographs.
The first time I read about J.R., he was already working on a project in New York. He told the interviewer that he was interested in capturing the spirit of individuals who normally go unseen. J.R. takes photos of people who live on the margins of mainstream society then prints them in larger-than-life scale. These blown-up images are then pasted on urban surfaces such as the sides of buildings, bridges, rooftops, and even trains. Not only do they confront the public, face to face, but they also help engage audiences in the city at the heart of a community. “It’s about breaking down barriers,” JR said.
Someone who gets it, I recall thinking at the time. We have spent more than 25 years trying to overcome barriers for our son. Physical ones are not as difficult for him as the social barriers. Due to his disability, he was excluded from regular education starting with pre-school. Our struggle for his basic human rights are never-ending. I’m not sure which is worse: looking away from someone with a handicap or gawking. One makes the person feel invisible, the latter makes them wish they were.
We have been to La MEP (as its more commonly called) several times. Our son enjoys looking at photos and commenting on them so we often take him to museums where there are exhibitions on photographers. Many people on the autism spectrum are visual thinkers and for some, like our son, photos are a tool for social communication and interaction. This exhibition motivated me to finally write about this museum.
Housed in a lovely 18th century hôtel particulier in the heart of the Marais district, La MEP is one of the top spaces to see contemporary photography in Paris. The small rooms on different floors are not too overwhelming and the natural light makes the space comfortable. However, for people with reduced mobility it leaves much to be desired. French law requires all establishments that are open to the public, such as museums, to be accessible to all. The Maison Europeenne de La Photographie announced that it would be opening with the J.R. exhibition after being closed for renovation. I was expecting to see many needed updates not only to the building but in terms of supports and services for a variety of impairments. The outsiders in J.R.’s work were being moved inside just as the museum would become more inclusive, or so I thought. Sadly, even the elevator was out of order on the day we visited.
The paradox was not lost on a critic in Telerama who compared J.R.’s work, reduced to fit in the chic décor of La MEP, to a bird who has gone astray and wounds his wings trying to escape a trap. The very people that the street-artiste would go out of his way to meet, those who don’t usually frequent museums, were conspicuously absent. Nonetheless, I urge you to go. There are some pleasant surprises, especially for train lovers like my son.
The Maison Europeenne de La Photographie is located at 5/7 rue de Fourcy in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. The website is in French but there is a page with practical information in English. It’s best to call ahead during maintenance and renovation. 01.44.78.75.00
When to visit: Open Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 8pm. Closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and all holidays.
Accessibility: Admission is free for visitors with a disability and one companion. Priority access means you can go to the front of the line but you still must go through security. Wheelchairs are available and exhibition spaces are accessible if the elevator is working. The library has a magnifier for visually-impaired visitors. There is a reduced price for guided tours and workshops.
Restrooms : The restrooms are located on the lower level so when the elevator is not working this will be a problem for those with reduced mobility.
Food and Beverage: There are several cafés, bars and restaurants nearby but nothing inside the building for the moment.
Bus: Line 69, 76, or 96. Get off at Rue de Jouy or Saint Paul stop. Metro: Saint Paul (line 1) Pont Marie (line 7) Hotel de Ville (line 11)
Which option is best suited to your needs? Checkout GlobetrotTED!
Car: Vehicles displaying a handicap sticker may park at 2 rue Jouy or one of 3 private parking garages nearby.