Meridian Gallery is pleased to present these photographs, curated by Sheeka Arbuthnot, as an opportunity to consider the historical and current state of Detroit as an American city.
In a historic move, Detroit has declared bankruptcy. This iconic city, that once symbolized American economic success and innovation in manufacturing, is the largest to have taken such measures as bankruptcy to address a situation of insolvency. Detroit has lost over half of its population since the 1950’s. It is a city of abandoned architecture where over forty percent of the streetlights do not work.
American Beauty presents the photographic work of Canadian photographer Philip Jarmain. Since 2010, Jarmain has been documenting the increasingly rapid destruction of Detroit’s early twentieth-century buildings. His emphasis in this work is on the architecture itself of these vanishing edifices: The form and the detail. In Jarmainʼs own words: “These are the last large format architectural photographs for many of these structures.” Twenty fine art prints 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 feet in size, depicting the interiors and exteriors of monumental public buildings, installed on all three floors of Meridian Gallery, comprise the core of the exhibition. This is work of great visual impact, the scale and definition of the images translating for the viewer into space that one enters, a physical presence that one feels, and history that one contemplates. The city of Detroit has had an unprecedented impact on the industrial age and the modern world. Once called “The Paris of the Midwest,” it was a city driven by innovation and craftsmanship. The architecture of Detroit in the early 1900s rivaled that of New York, Chicago, or Paris. Then came the Great Depression of the 1930s. Though Detroit would rise again, the era of opulence was over. The boom of the 1950s did not produce another architectural renaissance. In 2009, the US recession hit Detroit like a second Great Depression, compounding the decline and the ruin. The population dropped from 2.8 million people in the 1950s to a current population of 706,000. The unemployment rate is now over 30%. The majority of these majestic pre- Depression buildings are presently being destroyed at an exponential rate as they lie victim to scrappers, arson, and demolition. Despite these events Detroit -- Motown -- remains a cultural powerhouse and the passion of its residents is infectious.