The Panthéon in Paris has been taken over by a sea of faces as part of French artist JR’s new installation, Au Panthéon.
JR describes himself as a photograffeur – a play on graffeur, the French word for graffiti artist – and creates installations of giant black and white photographs in unlikely places. Previous JR projects include Face2Face (2007), which saw blown up portraits of Israelis and Palestinians hanging together on the west bank barrier and Women are Heroes (2008–9), giant eyes pasted on to a hillside favela in Brazil.
Au Panthéon is part of Inside Out, an ongoing participatory project inviting the general public to submit their own black and white portraits. It is tame compared with JR’s previous work but Au Panthéon still retains an element of cheeky provocation: bringing thousands of ordinary anonymous men, women and children into a monument which traditionally enshrines the great intellectual figures of French history (Pierre and Marie Curie, Voltaire, Rousseau and Zola, among others, are interred there).
Part of JR’s installation, around the exterior of the cupola, adds a decorative element to restoration work on the structure of the Panthéon. This is seen by some as a welcome change to monuments being covered with giant adverts while undergoing restoration. The Conciergerie, the Monnaie de Paris, and the hôtel de Laffemas on the Place des Vosges have come under criticism for selling space on their covered facades to advertisers. Philippe Bélaval, president of the Centre des monuments nationaux, the body that manages the Panthéon, told Le Monde he is ‘hostile to publicity on monuments that have a sacred dimension’.