Olympic moments in art

Sculptures by French artist JR depict Brazilian diver Cleuson Lima Do Rosario (above) and Sudanese high jumper Ali Mohd Younes Idriss in Rio de Janeiro.
Sculptures by French artist JR depict Brazilian diver Cleuson Lima Do Rosario (above) and Sudanese high jumper Ali Mohd Younes Idriss in Rio de Janeiro.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Sculptures by French artist JR depict Brazilian diver Cleuson Lima Do Rosario and Sudanese high jumper Ali Mohd Younes Idriss (above) in Rio de Janeiro.
Sculptures by French artist JR depict Brazilian diver Cleuson Lima Do Rosario and Sudanese high jumper Ali Mohd Younes Idriss (above) in Rio de Janeiro.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

French artist JR's giant works covered in scaffolding around Rio de Janeiro show sportsmen in motion

NEW YORK • Michael Phelps has nothing on her: French triathlete Leonie Periault, rising out of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, is caught mid-lap, looming over the water, her wingspan stretching more than 30m.

She is not competing in the Olympics, but she is there, represented in black and white and surrounded by scaffolding, thanks to French artist JR. Her image is one of three giant sculptures JR installed around the city, as one of the Olympics' first artists in residence.

The programme, which began this year, was intended to "open up Olympism and its values to the widest possible audience", according to a statement by the Olympic committee.

The other artists in residence are German writer Tilman Spengler and American Vine star Gerald Andal.

JR's pieces may have the biggest visual impact in Rio, where he has a long history.

His 2008 project there, Women Are Heroes, in which he pasted oversized photos of the faces and eyes of women on buildings in their hillside slum, helped earn him the TED prize a few years later and cemented his international reputation as a street artist.

In 2009, he founded Casa Amarela, a cultural and education centre, in one of Rio's oldest favelas, or slums, which he still visits regularly.

His work for the Olympics - his biggest-budget project ever, he said, though he would not disclose the cost - and an independent addition to Casa Amarela complement his long-running Inside Out photo series, turning urban landscapes into canvasses.

A roving photo truck that produces large-scale portraits, which JR's team then pastes around the city, has been a hit with locals and international visitors alike. It will make its way to the Olympic Village next.

For the sculptures, JR photographed young athletes who may one day make it to the Games, people who are still "working hard for the passion of sport".

There is Ali Mohd Younes Idriss, a Sudanese high jumper who trains in Germany and missed his chance for an Olympic trial this year because of an injury.

In JR's vision, he is leaping over an abandoned apartment building, backwards.

That leap may be analogous to pulling off the installation in Rio, amid an Olympics unusually besieged with problems.

Even the commission to do the project did not solidify until just a few months ago. "In Brazil, everything's possible - it's really hard, but it's possible," JR said.

That is the message sent by the Casa Amarela installation: a silver moon perched atop the building, high above anything else in the favela.

It will eventually be a bedroom for an artist in residence there, said Mr Marc Azoulay, director of JR's New York studio, who lived in Brazil and oversees Casa Amarela.

"It's a big statement for the community," Mr Azoulay said, "to say that anyone can reach the moon."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Olympic moments in art'. Print Edition | Subscribe