Julia SolisMichigan Theatre
Michigan Theatre (2009), taken by German photographer Julia Solis in Detroit, exemplifies the symbiosis between ruin and regeneration. Designed in 1925, the Michigan Theatre was planned as the crown jewel of a new business district in the midwestern capital. “It is beyond the dreams of loveliness,” wrote the Detroit Free Press in 1926 when the “magnificent” building opened to the public. By the 1970s, however, the theater had fallen into disrepair. “Vandalism and damage to the structure are so great that it is more feasible to demolish it than to attempt reconstruction,” concluded one writer in 1976. When further study revealed that razing the Michigan would compromise the adjoining office building, the property owners devised an unorthodox solution befitting Motor City: they transformed the theater into a parking garage, complete with a ticket booth, four-story lobby, and an Italianate painted ceiling.
Solis has remarked that growing up in Germany, in a landscape still scarred by World War II, seeded her fascination with the residues of the industrial age. She has photographed the relics of the automobile era in Detroit since 2005, and urban architecture that boasts some element of decay. The decomposition of swimming pools, subway tunnels, and rudimentary shelters barely built to last in the first place recur throughout her oeuvre. The appeal of her images confirms Andreas Huyssen’s observation that “[w]e are nostalgic for the ruins of modernity”—the monuments of industrial society that once held the promise of an alternative future, and now testify to the necessity of ruins to rebuild. (LH)
About the artist
Born and raised in Germany, Julia Solis studied at the University of California, Los Angeles before moving to New York, where she assembled the Brooklyn-based artist group Dark Passage in 1998. In 2002 she founded Ars Subterranea, exhibiting underground art in a literal underground setting. (Ars Subterranea later morphed into the nonprofit arts group Seafoam Palace.) Her work focuses on the decay of cities and subterranean environments: abandoned theaters and ruined civic spaces, coal mines, catacombs, and bunkers. She is a fellow of the New York Foundation for the Arts and a recipient of the Kathy Acker Award in photography. Her books include Capsule Out of Time: An Industrial Relic in West Virginia (2019), New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City (2007), and Stages of Decay (2013). Solis lives and works in Detroit.