b. 1956, Chile

Alfredo Jaar Biography

In his prolific practice, artist and architect Alfredo Jaar engages with the power and politics of images. Using a range of methods including installation, photography, filmmaking, and community-based art to explore topics such as globalisation, fascism, immigration, and homelessness, the artist's work is always researched-based, created in reaction to a real event.

Read More

Jaar will study an occurrence that has caught his interest and use art to add his own layer to the story: 'I have never created a single work that is just a pure product of my imagination or me as an artist in the studio. When I'm interested in a certain issue, I travel to a place and I investigate—I react', the artist said in his interview with Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers for Ocula Magazine. Within this method, he acknowledges the impossible-to-close gap between experience and record, or even ability to record. Previously, he has created art about events such as Rwanda's genocide and the Fukushima Nuclear disaster. In engaging with such calamities, he hopes to bear witness—to give visibility to those who are left invisible.

Jaar describes himself as an 'architect who makes art'. In his youth, he wanted to become an artist, but growing up in Chile in the 1970s this dream seemed unattainable. So he decided to study in the more stable field of architecture. Luckily for him, in architecture he found a passion equal to art: 'when I discovered architecture I was the happiest man on earth.' As an artist now, Jaar still considers space architecturally in all its realms—socially and politically as well as physically—and maintains an architect's eye for logic and detail.

Born into a Socialist Chilean family, the artist came of age in a Chile ruled by Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship, in which dissenters would disappear overnight. Later in his career, the artist would receive a commission to create a memorial to the victims of Pinochet's regime, entitled The Geometry of Conscience and completed in 2010. Only ten people are able to view this memorial at a time, each group descending a staircase of 33 steps into the pitch-black memorial space. After one minute of total darkness, the back wall of the space slowly lights up to reveal a grid of hundreds of white silhouettes. The walls on either side of the back wall are mirrored, creating the illusion that these silhouettes reach into infinity.

After the lights of the silhouettes in The Geometry of Conscience reach their brightest, they switch off, and the space is once more enveloped in darkness, leaving only a ghost-image of the figures behind. The silhouettes outline both deceased victims of Pinochet's regime and living Chileans. In doing so, the memorial acknowledges not only victims of the regime, but also the '17 million Chileans who are alive today and trying to retrace their common history', according to Jaar's studio manager, Capucine Gros.

Jaar arrived in New York in 1982, using his architecture career to finance his art practice. He is perhaps best known for a video work created after arriving in New York: his 1987 animation, A Logo for America. This artwork was placed on a billboard in Times Square and played amongst a rotation of advertisements every six minutes for a fortnight. In the animation, the viewer sees the map outline of the United States of America, the country's flag, and the texts 'THIS IS NOT AMERICA' and 'THIS IS NOT AMERICA'S FLAG'. The final image of the animation is the map outline of the continents of America (North and South), shown with the word 'AMERICA'. In A Logo for America, the artist draws attention to the way social preconceptions and priorities are reflected and misled in language. Projects such as this illustrate his interest in art's ability to make connections and reveal cracks in the system—to point out cultural distortions.

Alfredo Jaar became a Guggenheim Fellow in 1985, and a MacArthur Fellow in 2000.

Ocula | 2019

Alfredo Jaar Featured Artworks

View All (64)
One million points of light by Alfredo Jaar contemporary artwork photography
Alfredo Jaar One million points of light, 2005 Lightbox with Colour transparency, includes: postcard box + postcards
45.7 x 61 x 12.7 cm
Goodman Gallery Contact Gallery by Alfredo Jaar contemporary artwork works on paper
Alfredo Jaar, 1974 Letraset on cardboard
30.5 x 72.4 cm
Galerie Lelong & Co. New York Contact Gallery
Searching for Spain by Alfredo Jaar contemporary artwork photography
Alfredo Jaar Searching for Spain, 2012 Lightbox with colour transparency
153.7 x 103 x 12.7 cm
Goodman Gallery Contact Gallery
Out of Balance by Alfredo Jaar contemporary artwork sculpture, installation
Alfredo Jaar Out of Balance, 1989 Lightbox, color transparency
45.7 x 243.8 x 12.7 cm
Galerie Thomas Schulte Contact Gallery
Gesamtkunstwerk by Alfredo Jaar contemporary artwork sculpture
Alfredo Jaar Gesamtkunstwerk, 1988/2018 Lightbox with vinyl mounted on plexiglass
21.3 x 92.4 x 12.7 cm
SCAI The Bathhouse Contact Gallery
You Do Not Take a Photograph, You Make It. by Alfredo Jaar contemporary artwork installation
Alfredo Jaar You Do Not Take a Photograph, You Make It., 2013 Light Box with B/W transparency and printed matter
SCAI The Bathhouse Contact Gallery
(Kindness) of (Strangers) by Alfredo Jaar contemporary artwork installation
Alfredo Jaar (Kindness) of (Strangers), 2015 Neon, mirrors and framed print
Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris Contact Gallery

Alfredo Jaar Recent Exhibitions

View All (11)

Alfredo Jaar Represented By

Goodman Gallery contemporary art gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa
Goodman Gallery Cape Town, East Hampton, Johannesburg, London

Alfredo Jaar In Ocula Magazine

View All (8)

In Ocula Advisory

Alfredo Jaar In Related Press

View All (11)

Alfredo Jaar In Video & Audio

Sign up to be notified when new artworks and exhibitions by Alfredo Jaar are added to Ocula.
Sign Up