The rusticated façade of central Florence’s ritzy Palazzo Strozzi—the location of JR’s latest work, La Ferita (The Wound)—stands in stark contrast to the impoverished streets of the banlieue where the French artist was born.
JR, whose real name is Jean René, was a young boy when he began tagging the Paris outskirts, thrilled by the risk of climbing rooftops and making his mark with his friends. It did not take long for him to move on to “street galleries,” or “Expo 2 Rue,” as he called them. Often in plain sight, he would paste cheap photocopies of his photographs onto buildings and bus stops, give them quick spray-painted frames, sign the ensemble with his tag, and then disappear into the crowd.
We can only wonder what that boy would make of La Ferita, JR’s latest monumental work and the first annual public-art commission from the Palazzo Strozzi Future Art Program. At 91 feet tall and 108 feet wide, the black-and-white collage tears through the palazzo’s walls to “reveal” the artist’s fantasy museum within.
JR is a master of illusion and perspective—in 2019, he “engulfed” the Louvre’s glass pyramid in a rock quarry—but he also honors history and tradition, and the interior he evokes with La Ferita brings together some of the greatest Italian art treasures. It is a joy to recognize Botticelli’s Primavera, which actually lives at the Uffizi, hung behind Giambologna’s The Kidnapping of the Sabine Women, on imaginary loan from the Galleria dell’Accademia. Despite the fact that this work uses photomontage and is absolutely contemporary, you can’t help but recognize a connection to the 18th century and its affinity for capriccio, or architectural fantasy, exemplified by Piranesi’s black-and-white combinations of classical architecture, ruins, and treasures.
No detail of La Ferita is a coincidence. The project was commissioned and created in response to the coronavirus, its location and name an ode to the pandemic’s toll on this especially hard-hit country, and its timing a nod to the difficulty of physically accessing culture at the moment. As Italy enters yet another strict lockdown, it is “an opportunity to involve the audience, the public at large,” said Arturo Galansino, director of the Palazzo Strozzi, in a statement, “amid the current difficulties we all face when seeking opportunities to enjoy art in traditional venues.” —Sarah Hyde
La Ferita, by JR, will be on show at the Palazzo Strozzi until August 22