JR at the Pantheon
June 10, 2014
Of all the monuments in Paris, there is one that has the architecture, the beauty, the refinement and the grandeur of iconic areas such as the Louvre, the Invalides or the Opéra Garnier, yet attracting very little visitors. That monument is the Pantheon, located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, a place that now serves as the final resting place to the people who have made some of the most important contributions to France. With a tumultuous past filled with constant identity crisis, changing from catholic church to republican pantheon, the history of this gigantic monument is intense and captivating, to say the least.
Like the giant Goliath, the Pantheon may seem colossal and strong from a visitor’s point of view, but just by hearing about the controversy that went on during its construction in the 18th century, you can easily understand that this giant is actually very fragile. Soufflot, the Pantheon’s architect, wanted this church to be open in order to have its interior bathed in natural light. The foundations for the immense dome were also very audacious as many believed they were too thin to support its weight. Upon completion, the building never opened as a church, but as a pantheon, and the large openings were sealed. Without a proper flow of air, humidity rose and therefore weakened the structure. Renovations have been part of the Pantheons history ever since its completion in 1790
Parisianist Fun Fact: during the strong storm of December 1999, tiles of the Pantheon blew away, causing € 6.5 million worth of damage and repair.
Renovation works are never fun for the visitors, especially when they were unexpected. Although the plan was never to close the Pantheon during the many years of renovation, it was decided to use this occasion to work hand in hand with a French artist to bring forth the universal and humanist values that characterize the Pantheon. And what better way to bring in photos of unknown people that have accepted to participate in the project.
Rest assured, JR isn’t the star of the series Dallas… This JR is still alive and kicking. Born in Tunisia in 1983, JR is a French street artist that has made a name for himself in the graffiti and tag world before becoming a recognized and famed artist, mainly working on portraits. With a desire to emphasize on humanity (« in the street, I reach out to people that never go to museums » he claims), JR has travelled throughout the world and has worked on many exhibition in the four corners of the world.
Parisianist Fun Fact: although the letters JR are his real initials, the artist admits they are a reference to Larry Hagman’s character in the American series.
There are 3 areas in the Pantheon where JR’s work can be admired. From the outside, it is impossible to miss the black and white portraits that cover the dome of the Pantheon, which should be visible until the end of the renovations, earliest in 2022. Enter the Pantheon and you will see an original display of JR’s portraits of unknown people on the floor and high above in the inside of the dome. These inner portraits will be taken off on October 6th 2014.
During the month of March 2014, JR took his truck all over France and 2,500 people have volunteered to have their portrait taken. Another 5,000 people have submitted their pictures directly online. These high definition pictures have then been blown up and with a special photo-collage technique have been assembled to make this interesting artwork.
From a personal point of view, JR’s work is not the most fascinating thing that has ever occurred in the artistic world this year, but it does add something interesting to the Pantheon. Although the monument didn’t really need it as its sheer beauty and daring architecture suffice to convince anyone to walk in for a visit, this impressive collage of pictures is probably the best way to forget about the renovation works. Moreover, the combination of old and new art is always an interesting perspective. But don’t just turn back once you have walked on the many faces of strangers in the Pantheon. Take the time to look around and descend in the crypt and get close to the great people of France that have helped make it the nation it is today.