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French artist JR unveils a monumental new optical illusion installation in Italy

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Written by Leah Dolan, CNN

Street artist JR, known for the larger-than-life photographic installations the Rio de Janeiro took during the 2016 Olympics, he has now presented a huge optical illusion in Florence, Italy.

The main installation unveiled today is in the Palazzo Strozzi, a historic center of cultural arts in the heart of Florence.

The 91-foot show, titled “The Wound” or “The Wound,” climbs the Renaissance facade of the Palazzo and simulates a giant open hole in the front of the building. Inside the architectural teardrop is an imagined view of the interior of the Palazzo, made by a black and white photographic collage.

French artist JR poses during the presentation of his visual installation "The Wounded."

The French artist JR poses during the presentation of his visual installation “La Ferita”. Credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP / Getty Images

JR began his career at the age of 13 as a graffiti artist in France. His work, which has been exhibited on stairs, train cars and even at the top of the Louvre, is a fusion of street art and photography. On his 2015 book “Can Art Change the World?” JR writes, “Images aren’t special. That’s what you do with them.” JR’s willingness to place the context above the content has earned him international acclaim.
"28 Millimeters" is part of the JR Women Are Heroes series in Rio de Janeiro, 2008

“28 Millimeters” is part of the JR Women Are Heroes series in Rio de Janeiro, 2008 Credit: Courtesy of JR

His latest installation explores how access to art and culture has been jeopardized by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Walking around Florence feels weird these days: without the visitors that are such a normal part of Florence’s life, it feels quiet and less vibrant,” JR said in a statement to CNN Style. “Without being able to enter a museum, attend a concert or spend time in an exhibition, we realize that it is culture that gives color to life and that the beauty of our city is activated by the people who pass by, soak up the history and culture of Florence, and leave enriched by it. “

The illusory crack through Palazzo Strozzi symbolizes the wound that all cultural sites have suffered due to the ongoing pandemic restrictions. The art industry has been devastated by the continuous shutdown of museums, galleries, libraries, theaters and cinemas, even with the most revered institutions struggling to get back on their feet. Last May, Shakespeare’s historic Globe Theater in London revealed that he was facing insolvency and permanent closure as a result of blocking measures.
The installation refers to the painted representation of 16th-century illusions, which allowed artists to portray a non-existent depth in the thickness of the brick by applying their perspective studies to transparent walls.

The installation refers to the painted representation of 16th-century illusions, which allowed artists to portray a non-existent depth in the thickness of the brick by applying their perspective studies to transparent walls.
Credit: Courtesy of JR

“(‘ The Wound ’) makes visible the profound impact of Covid-19 on culture,” says JR.

The installation also launches Palazzo Strozzi’s new Future art program, which hopes to support the creation and promotion of Italian contemporary art with an emerging talent award and an annual public art commission to be unveiled at Florence every spring.

In a press release, the director of Palazzo Strozzi, Dr. Arturo Galansino, said the center has a “unique” determination to “forge a dialogue between the classical and the contemporary through the participation of artists capable of interpreting the present.”

“It is therefore appropriate that we launch the program with JR’s new work‘ The Wound, ’” he added, “(which is) a powerful reflection on the difficult conditions surrounding access to culture in Covid’s age. -19, but also a symbol of freedom, imagination and creative participation and an opportunity to involve the public, the general public, in a whole new way. “

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