Dazzling Illusion Creates Gaping Canyon Beneath the Eiffel Tower

Street artist and photographer JR unveiled his latest large-scale installation last month

JR's latest illusion seemingly opens up a ravine in front of the Eiffel Tower
JR's newest illusion seemingly opens up a ravine in front of the Eiffel Tower. Photo by Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP via Getty Images

An innovative, newly unveiled street artwork by French photographer JR makes Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower look like it’s hovering over a giant canyon.

As French newspaper Le Monde reports, JR created the trompe-l'oeil illusion at the Trocadéro, an assortment of museums, sculptures, gardens and fountains across from the Parisian landmark. The public art exhibition, which debuted on May 19, will remain in place for a month. Its installation arrived ahead of the June 4 opening of a mid-career retrospective, “JR Chronicles,” at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

“[I]t’s really cool because it’s really realistic,” visitor Lara Watson told Reuters last month. “I like that it combines with the Eiffel Tower, so it’s a piece of art because of the Eiffel Tower already behind it.”

The cleverly deceptive illusion uses a black-and-white photographic collage to create the appearance of a large ravine. Since its opening, the eye-catching work has provided the perfect backdrop for onlookers eager to photograph themselves pretending to jump across the canyon, scale the rocks or fall into the ravine, writes Sarah Cascone for Artnet News.

Born in France in 1983, the artist known as JR began honing his craft as a teenager, when he painted graffiti on the streets of Paris. (Speaking with the Guardian’s Elizabeth Day in 2010, JR explained that the moniker refers to his initials but declined to reveal his full name.) After discovering a camera on the Paris Metro, the young JR developed an interest in photography, too. Today, the artist combines the two mediums by installing large-scale, black-and-white photographs in public areas.

In 2016, JR created a similarly uncanny illusion at another Paris landmark: the Louvre. According to Nina Azzarello of Designboom, the artist attached an image of the palatial museum building to I.M. Pei’s 71-foot-tall glass pyramid, making it look as if the structure had vanished into thin air.

“The truth is my work is about interaction between people,” JR told APTN at the time, as quoted by CBS Los Angeles’ Katie Johnston. “… That’s how I [decided] to make it disappear from that exact point, because that’s the place where everybody comes and takes a selfie, turning their back to the monument.”

Earlier this year, JR unveiled yet another a trompe-l’oeil at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. Titled La Ferita, or The Wound, the 92- by 108-foot installation features a collage of artworks housed inside the Renaissance palace, expertly placed to simulate a gaping gash in the building’s façade.

JR's <em>La Ferita<em> at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence
JR's La Ferita at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence Courtesy of JR

“Without being able to enter a museum, to attend a concert or spend time at an exhibition, we realize that it is culture that gives life its color and that the beauty of our city is activated by the people that pass through it,” JR told CNN Style’s Leah Dolan in March.

If the Saatchi show and Eiffel Tower installation are any indication, JR has no plans of slowing down soon. The exhibition—billed as the largest solo display of the artist’s works to date, according to the Art Newspaper’s Gareth Harris—builds on a previous show at the Brooklyn Museum and presents some of JR’s most iconic projects from the past 15 years.

Next, JR appears to be headed to the Pyramids of Giza, where he’ll collaborate with Art d’Egypte on a yet-to-be disclosed project.

“This is not a photomontage,” writes the artist on Instagram, “but the artwork in October might be a photo collage.”

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