Jane and Louise Wilson Azeville 2006 showing a black and white photograph of an old building in ruin

Jane and Louise Wilson
Azeville 2006
Tate © Jane and Louise Wilson, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York

Ruin Lust

Ruins are curious objects of desire: they seduce us with decay and destruction. The ruin may remind us of a glorious past now lying in pieces, or point to the future collapse of our present culture. Certain ruins are preserved as memorials, others demolished or rebuilt. For centuries artists have been attracted to ruins, seeing new ideals of beauty in their desolation, as well as sublime warnings from the past.

Ruin Lust (from the German term Ruinenlust) traces the history of this fascination from the eighteenth century onwards. Classical ruins haunted and inspired artists of the Romantic era, and many painters went in search of the crumbling picturesque. The Victorians imagined London in ruins, and the ruined city remains a compelling motif in our era of economic collapse. The wars of the twentieth century produced such wreckage that it threatened to exceed the very category of ruin. Will the same be true of current environmental crises? Perhaps in the work of contemporary artists we can find new uses for ruins and new dreams among the rubble