JR Makes Surprise Visit to Justin Bettman’s Times Square Living Room Installation

The French street artist posed with actors on the set of a mid-century living room.

French street artist JR on set in Times Square for Justin Bettman's #SetintheStreets. Photo: Ruiqi Liu.

Visitors to Times Square might feel more at home this weekend, thanks to a living room built by Justin Bettman for latest installment in his popular #SetintheStreet art project, which transforms New York city streets into cinematic sets using unwanted furniture.

After months of planning by Bettman and Times Square Arts, the installation, scheduled to coincide with the launch of the Tribeca Film Festival (April 15–26), made its debut yesterday in Father Duffy Square, just north of West 46th Street.

French street artist JR, whose short film, Les Bosquets, a collaboration with the New York City Ballet, is featured in the festival (see Artists JR and Daniel Arsham Take on the Tribeca Film Festival), was on hand for the unveiling. He posed with a group of actors attired in 1960s-era clothing, looking notably anachronistic in the otherwise mid-century set, which featured an old television stand and other dated-looking furnishings.

Bettman is known for staging similar sets across New York, seeking only an empty stretch of wall to serve as a canvas for his photo shoots. Afterward, the scene is left behind, a surreal photo op that is inevitably scavenged by the city’s opportunistic denizens.

The current scene will live on through Sunday, April 19, thanks to Sherry Dobbin, director of Times Square Arts (see Times Square Video Stunt Has People Climbing the Walls), who learned of Bettman’s guerrilla-style work and invited him to bring the project to Times Square. “Pairing the event with the opening of the Tribeca Film Festival was a natural fit,” she told artnet News, because “we want Times Square to be a cultural hub for everything that’s going on in the city.”

“When I first started doing this project I was like, ‘Man, the ultimate location would be Times Square,’ and when I received the email from Sherry, I was like, blown away that they would even be open to it,” Bettman admitted.

French street artist JR on set in Times Square for Justin Bettman's #SetintheStreets. Photo: Marc Azoulay, via Instagram.

French street artist JR on set in Times Square for Justin Bettman’s #SetintheStreets.
Photo: Marc Azoulay, via Instagram.

To build his sets, Bettman canvasses the city for discarded furniture, monitoring Craigslist’s free section and occasionally acting on tips from friends. He lets his finds dictate the final scene, building from one or two key pieces to create a cohesive setting.

“This is the first time I’ve done it legitimately,” rather than as an unsanctioned pop-up, said Bettman. “If it got taken down and you didn’t get to take a photo in it, tough luck. . . . you gotta look for the next one.”

Part of the project’s appeal is the contrast between the hustle and bustle of Times Square, with its Naked Cowboy, mounted police officers, and knock-off Elmo performers, and the quiet, domestic feel of the living room Bettman has dropped into the middle of that chaos. “It’s interesting to have such a private setting in a public space,” the artist explained.

After JR and the actors cleared out, visitors to Times Square were quick to approach the set, eager to pose for photographs of their own.

“I’m just really excited to see the photos that people create in this,” Bettman said. “People are so creative and when you give them a canvas, it’s awesome to see what they come up with.”

Justin Bettman’s #SetintheStreet is on view in Times Square April 15–19.

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