American Beauty: The Opulent Pre-Depression Architecture of Detroit

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Belle Isle Aquarium © Philip Jarmain
American Beauty: The Opulent Pre-Depression Architecture of Detroit
Curated by: Sheeka Arbuthnot

535 Powell Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
September 7th, 2013 - October 20th, 2013
Opening: September 7th, 2013 5:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Union Square/Civic Center
Tue-Sat 11-5
Detroit, architecture, architectural photography, photography


This exhibition presents the large format 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 Jarmain's 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, are installed on the three floors of Meridian Gallery. These images comprise the core of the exhibition.  This is work of great visual impact, the scale and definition of the images translate into a space that the viewer 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.

Meridian Gallery is pleased to present these photographs as an opportunity to consider the historical and current state of Detroit as an American city.

Philip Jarmain is a photographer who earns his living in advertising and is based in Vancouver and Toronto.    His personal interests as a photographer include architecture, story telling, and the filmic in photography.