French Street Artist ‘JR’ Wins $100K TED Prize

Works by JR in Kenya and along the wall separating Israel from the West Bank. (JR / Agence VU)

Bill Clinton, Bono, and…JR? This year, TED has forgone the household names and decided to award its TED Prize to someone who prefers to remain anonymous. Known only by his initials, JR is a French artist whose canvas is the street. He has worked with teams of volunteers to mount enormous black-and-white photo canvases on buildings of the Parisian banlieues, walls in the Middle East, broken bridges in Africa, and Brazilian favelas. Meanwhile, JR does not show his full face, reveal his name, or explain his guerrilla exhibitions, which have come to function as local, national, and ultimately, global conversation pieces. “JR’s work involves embedding into neighborhoods, favelas, and villages around the world, photographing the people who live there and learning their stories,” wrote TED’s Chris Anderson and Amy Novogratz in a statement announcing the winner. “Although other guerilla artists also make statements about society, few do it on the scale and with the same community engagement as JR.” TED will award him with $100,000 and “a wish to change the world with the support of the TED Community’s incredible resources.” His wish will be announced on March 2 at the 2011 TED conference in Long Beach, California. In the meantime, his current projects include “Unframed,” which aims to reinterpret famous photographs and photographers in new contexts. He is taking photos from museum archives and posting enlarged versions on city walls, creating free art exhibitions.