JR transforms venice simplon-orient-express train carriage into an installation in motion

JR transforms venice simplon-orient-express train carriage into an installation in motion

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JR’s L’Observatoire in Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

 

In time for the Venice Art Biennale 2024 (read our ultimate guide here), JR converts the interiors of Sleeping Car 3553 inside Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express into an artwork in motion, L’Observatoire. A treasure hunt on a train, JR hides as many details as possible within the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express carriage, from hidden compartments to secret messages layered in intricate marquetry. Visitors to Venice and the Art Biennale can peer through the eye-shaped portholes placed in the carriage windows to see and observe JR’s work between April 17th and 19th at Fondamenta San Giovanni (Hotel Cipriani) from 14:00 to 17:00, and between April 20th and 22nd at the Riva dei Sette Martiti from 10:00 to 18:00.

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images courtesy of JR

 

 

secret tea room with fireplace on a train

 

A bedroom with double bed, an ensuite bathroom, wardrobe, reclining daybed, lounge area, library with book selection by French publisher Gallimard, and a secret tea room with fireplace: these pieces and spaces are curated by the hands of JR, encompassing L’Observatoire, the sleeper carriage inside the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. As guests laze about inside, the rounded windows and oculus skylight on the ceiling let them peek through exterior landscapes of Europe as the Orient Express travels. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train with JR’s L’Observatoire begins traveling in 2025, and this artist-curated private carriage is both the first to be designed by any artist and dubbed the most spacious accommodation type onboard the train.

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JR on top of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train

 

 

JR’s fascination with train, leading to L’Observatoire

 

Designing the interiors of a sleeper carriage isn’t foreign territory to JR. Growing up, he was fascinated by this means of transportation, soon becoming a canvas for many of his grand artworks, including his seminal work ‘Women Are Heroes’ (2007) and ‘Mind the Gap’ (2017). The former sees the artist’s installation of eyes on the roofs and sides of trains as they travel through the Kibera slum in Nairobi, while the latter emerges as a grand artwork of 700 miniature trains depicting faces, looping in an endless circle. The young JR would catch a train, sit by the window, and watch the landscapes pass by. For him, the changing landscapes remind him of traveling through different worlds.

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for ‘L’Observatoire’, JR adds hidden compartments and secret messages in marquetry

 

 

‘Then when I started creating art,’ JR says. ‘I realized that trains were a way to make my work travel, so I started replacing Metro maps with my photography. It allows me to send my work into the unknown like a message in a bottle.’ Sitting in his personal art studio in Paris, JR reflects on his penchant for trains and how he feels whenever he’s on one of them. The charm of century-old crafts, the astronomical observatories, the cabinets of curiosity of Renaissance Europe. These were some of the influences that got into the mix as he thought of his interior design for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

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JR hanging from the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

 

 

As he sits down in his studio, he thinks of shapes, of curved corners and round windows, of people who may want to daydream and build their little places and temporary spaces as the train moves forward, backward. Once an imagination, these design elements flank L’Observatoire, inviting guests to uncover their details and hidden subtleties all the while crisscrossing the continent onboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. He follows in the footsteps of Art Deco designers René Prou and René Lalique, who created the train’s iconic ‘tulip lamp’ and the glass paneling of the Côte d’Azur restaurant car.

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visitors can peer through the eye-shaped portholes placed in the carriage windows

 

 

He stays in the same vein of the historic train, using artisanal century-old techniques to preserve the transportation’s look and feel, and comes up with an installation in motion, inspired by his experiences around trains, his fascination with them, and his time rifling through Venice Simplon-Orient-Express from decades to present. ‘Working with artisans and discovering motifs that respect the era [in which the train carriages were built] was not a constraint because I was interested in making this a timeless artwork – as if I was an artist from the 1920s. The fundamental craft is timeless,’ JR says.

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JR inside L’Observatoire in the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train

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rounded windows and oculus skylight on the ceiling let guests peek through exterior landscapes of Europe

jr l'observatoire venice orient express
JR inside his personal art studio in Paris

jr l'observatoire venice orient express
JR’s artistic influences for L’Observatoire stems from his personal experiences with trains growing up

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visitors can visit JR’s L’Observatoire in Venice until April 22nd

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