TIME SHOOTS ART: To tackle both sides of the gun debate in America, Time recruited the French photographer JR for a multimedia project.
The photographer’s talents were maximized for a Time gatefold cover featuring 245 individuals, who also shared their opinions about the highly sensitive subject. The mural is now on view at the Pace gallery in New York and as of Friday a projection of it will be beamed on the Houston Bowery for a few weeks. The mural will also travel to other cities and people can apply to use the projection for community discussions about the gun debate. There are also numerous interactive videos for Time readers to learn what the individuals think about the topic in their own words, as well as the requisite behind-the-scenes video with JR.
JR landed on this year’s Time 100 list. The news publication periodically asks those who make the list to contribute, write or pitch in in some capacity, according to editor in chief Edward Felsenthal. Aside from being famous for “extraordinary murals, which bring together on one canvas people from every point of view and every walk of life,” JR’s works “are very much about our common denominator. I asked him in this moment of incredible divisiveness — really all over the world — including in this country, if he was interested in creating a cover for us,” Felsenthal said.
Felsenthal and JR needed very little time to decide on a topic. “We had a conversation. I can’t remember which of us suggested it first. I started the conversation, ‘Would you want to do a cover for us?’ and then we talked about it for a couple of minutes. This was back in May. I don’t remember whether we talked about a couple of other options. But within two minutes we had settled on this topic,” he said.
Th editor noted how the French-born artist was “fascinated about the subject,” due partially to the fact that guns were not part of the world that he grew up in France. Felsenthal was excited by the idea, because the artist looked at the subject with “fresh eyes and an open mind” due to his background.
While the project is framed around guns, “it’s really about the broader divides in our society,” Felsenthal said. “There is probably no more visible or visceral topic that reflects the divisiveness that we’re all faced with every day than guns. To me, it made great sense to having somebody whose dedicated so much of his work to bridging gaps tackle this topic.”
With 1.2 million Instagram followers alone, JR stands to help raise Time’s digital profile. But Felsenthal said the appeal “was his creative vision and his significance as an artist. He’s been nominated for an Oscar. He’s active in all kinds of extraordinary philanthropy around the world. His work is about action as well as it about art.”
Asked if the artist’s social media reach was something he considered, Felsenthal said, “I considered the fact that he is a person of enormous influence and reach, which is why he was on the Time 100. I couldn’t tell you even now what his social media numbers are. He’s a major global figure in the art world and that was attractive enough. Obviously, we hope and expect that his work will have broad reach around the country and the world. His work is about the art and also about the impact, and that’s the same for Time.”
The package also includes six essays from such major writers as “There There” author Tommy Orange, conservative columnist David French and former Time editor in chief turned Harvard professor Nancy Gibbs, about the importance of bridging gaps, common ground and listening to one another, Felsenthal said.
Look for more art-related projects from Time down the road. “At a time when words and oratory and tweets and rage are almost obscuring and are complicating the issues in front of us, art is a way for us to see the world more clearly. I’m very proud of this project and we would absolutely love to and intend to do more [projects] along these lines,” Felsenthal said.