Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre: Movie Theaters | Tristan Hoare Gallery
‘Ruin porn’ is a loaded term. Viewers living in intact and tidy homes, getting a vicarious thrill from images of spectacularly derelict places. Places we don’t have to deal with in our day to day lives.
Anyway, if ruin porn is a thing, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre are some of the top pornographers in the game. They’re behind The Ruins of Detroit, a coffee table book of sumptuously shot photos of the motor city, once so prosperous and now run so completely to seed. The two French photographers started photographing the city in 2005, and the book came out in 2011. They’ve been diligently photographing run-down places around the world ever since, and some more recent photos from the US are now on show at Tristan Hoare Gallery.
Metropolitan Opera House, Philadelphia, PA, 2012
As the show’s title suggests, this time Marchand and Meffre focus on cinemas. Generally built in the golden age from the 1910s to the 1930s, these huge palaces, with capacities in the thousands, run the full exuberent interwar architectural gamut from Deco to streamlined. Rather than ruins, these “movie theaters” have been repurposed: this one’s now a tabernacle, that one sells guns. Saddest of all, one in San Francisco is now a parking garage, with only the fun facade remaining to remind us of the building’s former glamour. The notes inform us that it was built in 1928, closed in 1957 and part-demolished in 1964.
Like all successful pornographers, Marchand and Meffre know what the people want: thrilling ruination and insensitive interventions, though architectural rather than corporeal. Unsurprisingly, they’re also big on damp patches: the ceiling of the ‘Metropolitan Opera House’ in Philadelphia, now fallen into ruin, resembles a map of the world. Once painted sky blue, the damp has seeped through, making continents of yellow patches; sometimes the ceiling is worn through entirely where the lights once hung, leaving skeletal mountain ranges of floorboards.
This place was built in 1908 as a theatre, became a cinema in the 1920s, a ballroom in the 1930s, a basketball stadium in the 1940s, a church in the 1950s, and was finally left vacant in the mid-1990s.
Another former cinema, this time in Queens, New York, has become a Hispanic supermaket. Under the French artists’ pitiless eye, we are shown strip lights installed in polystyrene-looking ceiling panels. They shine a flat, hard light onto neat stacks of masa mix and vanilla rice. But disaster is approaching: on these panels, there are a couple of telltale orangey-yellow patches starting to form, an intimation of ruination…
The contrast between the icy perfection of these large photographs’ compositions - reminding me of Marchand and Meffre’s German counterparts, Andreas Gursky and Candida Höfer - and the seediness of the subject matter is a familiar trick. That’s not to say it’s not effective, though.
Writing about looking at these photos, in a beautiful high-ceilinged room in one of London’s very nicest squares, sunlight slanting in onto the floorboards, makes me feel a bit dirty, now that the visit’s over. It was fun at the time though.
Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre: Movie Theaters is at Tristan Hoare Gallery (London). 10 February - 11 March 2022