the beauty of decay in Boston and New Haven

Human beings cannot get enough piled-up pieces of destroyed civilizations or images of outdated surfaces of abandoned buildings. We make room for ghosts that haunt old residences. Social scientists and historians study the shape of failure and the passing of time in ruins of a metropolis. Melancholy washes over us and nostalgia tugs at us as we view depictions of fallen social and economic centers of human life.

Two current exhibits, one at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and another at the renovated and remarkable Yale Center for British Art, show how artists have found inspiration in the crumbles of ancient and outdated city structures.

Francis Frith's photograph of the Ramesseum of El-Kurnehin Thebes

The exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts shows artists’ interest in earlier civilizations and fallen cities with paintings and photographs of ancient European and Middle Eastern ruins.

Henry Dixon, no. 77, “Old houses, Aldgate” (detail), 1883, from Relics of Old London (London: Society for Photographing Relics of Old London, 1875–1886), carbon print mounted on card, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Relics of Old London at the Yale Center for British Art presents a group of photographs of late 19th-century London just before the industrial revolution brought new buildings for new kinds of production and new ways of life.

“19th-century Americans yearned for ruins….”  -from a description of a photograph at the MFA

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