French Artist JR Transforms Paris’ Opera House Into a Vast Cave

French artist Jeane Rene, better known as JR, returns to amaze with his latest installation in the heart of the French capital. As part of the Palais Garnier’s renovation, the Opéra National de Paris invited the artist to transform the scaffolding of the historic landmark into the entrance of a vast cave, evoking a passage filled with rocks and light. Titled Retour à la caverne, the project is an extension of JR’s trompe l’oeil projects, which have taken over iconic sites like the Louvre Museum, Trocadero Esplanade, Farnese Palace in Rome, and Florence’s Strozzi Palace. The installation is open to the public until September 25, 2023.

Like an opera libretto, this anamorphosis of Palais Garnier will take place in two monumental acts. The first one, Act I – L’entrée de la caverne, recalls the stage sets of epic operas by Berlioz or Wagner, combined with the aesthetics of 19th-century romanticism. “In Act I, Palais Garnier appears to be stuck between two times. At first glance, the building seems to be in ruins, a reflection of the fragility and eternity of Parisian monuments. But upon closer inspection, the piece can also be interpreted as a work of art in permanent construction. Alongside the century-old building and natural formations, contemporary scaffolding is present, a nod to the real and necessary work that physically supports this installation and monument,” told the artist.

JR - Retour à la Caverne

Visitors walking up the Avenue de l’Opéra can journey back to the origins of song and dance in Ancient Greece. In the 6th century BC, Greek festivals honoring the gods were held in caves. As these festivals grew in popularity, they were moved to cities, and theaters were built. The geological formations that JR alludes to in his installation are reminiscent of these ancient caves, providing a unique opportunity to experience the birthplace of Western theater. Ultimately, the Palais Garnier installation is a call to reconnect with nature. Nodding to Plato’s allegory of the cave, it represents the opportunity to escape from the ‘shadows’ and experience reality in its truest form.

JR - Retour à la Caverne

In November, Act II – Dans la caverne will take a significant leap back in time. The cave’s entrance will expand across the entire facade of the Opera. In place of any architectural features, the walls will bear human traces, evoking prehistoric cave paintings.

All are encouraged to help create this monumental piece by participating in free embroidery workshops at the Galerie du 19M. From mid-September until October, everyone is invited to leave their mark and learn embroidery during the “Mano Habilis” workshop series led by skilled craftspeople.