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b. 1956, Santiago, Chile
Alfredo Jaar was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1956. He studied architecture and filmmaking, graduating from the Instituto Chileno-Norteamericano de Cultura in 1979, and Universidad de Chile, Santiago, in 1981.
Jaar’s multidisciplinary artistic practice explores the unequal power relations and sociopolitical divisions that result from globalization. His best-known work, A Logo for America, 1987, used an electronic billboard in New York’s Times Square to display the statement “This is not America” emblazoned across an outline map of the United States. Through an apparently contradictory juxtaposition of word and image, Jaar drew attention to the fact that the word “America” is routinely but erroneously applied to just one part of the two American continents.
Jaar initiated this strategy of using a denunciatory statement in a 1992 intervention at the Pergamonmuseum, Berlin. Titled The Aesthetics of Resistance, the work comprised fifteen neon signs placed on the stairs of the Pergamon Altar, the most famous item in the museum’s collection of classical antiquities, which also serves as the building’s entrance. Each sign named a town in Germany where attacks against immigrants and asylum seekers (mostly Turkish) had taken place, requiring the audience to metaphorically traverse these events and perhaps begin to consider collective social responsibility. In another long-term work, The Rwanda Project (1994–2000), Jaar attempted to represent the 1994 genocide in that country through a victim’s eyes, drawing on firsthand experience of the place and its people. Through a variety of means, including survivors’ testimonies and pictures, the piece reveals the world’s silence in the face of genocide, testing the visitor’s desensitization to images of violence and probing the limited capacity of art to represent tragedy.
The issues of migration and discrimination in a globalized world were also explored in Jaar’s The Cloud (2000), a performance involving the release of three thousand balloons into the air over the Tijuana-San Diego border. The number was chosen to correspond with that of lives lost crossing that frontier between Mexico and the United States over the previous decade. Accompanied by musical performances and poetry recitals on both sides of the boundary, the event concluded with a moment of silence, turning the project into an act of public commemoration. A later project The Geometry of Conscience (2010) memorializes the victims of the Pinochet regime in Santiago.
Jaar has had solo exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, New York (1989); Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (1991); New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; Whitechapel Gallery, London; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (all 1992); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1994); Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (both 2005); Musée des Beaux Arts, Lausanne (2007); and Art Institute of Chicago (2012); Fondazione Merz, Torino, Italy (2013) and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki (2014). A major retrospective of his work took place in 2012 in Berlin at Berlinische Galerie, Neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst, and Alte Nationalgalerie. His work has been included in the Venice Biennale (1986, 2007, 2009 and 2013, the last time as Chile’s representative); São Paulo Biennial (1985, 1987, and 2010); Istanbul Biennial (1995); and Gwangju Biennial, South Korea (1995 and 2000). He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985 and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2000. Jaar lives and works in New York.