What happens when a city collapses and nature takes over? The majesty and tragedy of Detroit are displayed in Detroit Disassembled: Photographs by Andrew Moore, organized by the Akron Art Museum
on view through October 10, 2010.
Moores photographs of the Motor City are sublime beautiful, operatic in scale and drama, tragic yet offering a glimmer of hope, says the museums Director of Curatorial Affairs Barbara Tannenbaum, who organized the exhibition. Although it is hard to believe that his post-apocalyptic scenes reflect present day America, the artist has been scrupulously honest.
Detroit, once the nations fourth largest city and the epitome of our industrial wealth and might, has been in decline for almost a half-century. The city is now one-third empty land more abandoned property than any American city except post-Katrina New Orleans. As Americans travel to Europe and Mexico to view the remains of long-gone civilizations, Europeans have in turn started visiting Detroit to see its ruins.
The exhibition, which features 30 photographs taken between 2008 and 2009, showcases numerous structures from ornate public buildings to humble homes. Moores images, printed on the scale of epic history paintings, belong to an artistic tradition that began in the 17th century. Numerous artists have used ruins to remind their viewers of the collapse of past civilizations, and to warn that contemporary empires risk the same fate. Soaring scenes of Detroits rusting factory halls and disintegrating theaters share the monumentality of Giovanni Battista Piranesis 18th century engravings of the crumbling civic monuments of ancient Rome and Greece. Moores photographs of skeletal houses and collapsed churches carry forward the Romantic tone and rich hues of Caspar David Friedrichs 19th century paintings of fallen medieval cathedrals and castles.
People who dont know Detroit think its scary, yet despite its reputation, the citizens are remarkably friendly, resilient and resourceful people, says Moore. They are proud of what this city has contributed to America and continue to believe in their city. But no one can be sure of what the future has in store for Detroit, because few cities of its scale have ever faced its ongoing dilemma: how to refocus its urban core while making meaningful use of empty land that pockmarks its urban fabric.
In spite of the human neglect that has overwhelmed the cityscape, the true engineer (as Moore calls it) of Detroits current condition is nature itself. A vandal may break out a window, but it is the rain and ice that will eventually collapse the buildings structure. However, natures cycle involves not just decay but also growth. On the top floor of a former warehouse, for example, a dense matting of decayed and burned books has given birth to a grove of birch trees that feed on rotting words. The tree trunks rise straight up into the open sky through crooked I-beams and collapsing concrete slabs. To Moore, Detroit is a definitive demonstration of natures power to devour and through destruction, to renew.
Born in Old Greenwich, Connecticut in 1957, Moore currently lives in New York. His large format photography has been widely exhibited and is represented in numerous museum collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Canadian Centre for Architecture and Israel Museum. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, New York State Council on the Arts and Judith Rothschild Foundation. His film How to Draw a Bunny won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Moores previous books include "Inside Havana" (2002), "Governors Island" (2005) and "Russia: Beyond Utopia" (2005).