Art Historian Dora Apel at Book Beat, Sun., June 14

ProductImageHandlerArt Historian Dora Apel will be presenting her latest book- Beautiful Terrible Ruins: Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline- at Book Beat on Sunday, June 14 from 3:00-4:00pm. She will be speaking as well as signing copies of her work, which will be available for sale at the event. This event is free and open to the public. For more information or to reserve copies, please call Book Beat (248) 968-1190.


“In her thoughtful and riveting take on the decline of Detroit, Dora Apel makes the case that ‘ruin porn’ images of urban decay say less about a specific city than about the grinding forces of globalism and political abandonment.”

-Scott Martelle, author of Detroit: A Biography

Once the manufacturing powerhouse of the nation, Detroit has become emblematic of failing cities everywhere—the paradigmatic city of ruins—and the epicenter of an explosive growth in images of urban decay. In Beautiful Terrible Ruins, art historian Dora Apel explores a wide array of these images, ranging from photography, advertising, and television, to documentaries, video games, and zombie and disaster films.

 Apel shows how Detroit has become pivotal to an expanding network of ruin imagery, imagery ultimately driven by a pervasive and growing cultural pessimism, a loss of faith in progress, and a deepening fear that worse times are coming. The images of Detroit’s decay speak to the overarching anxieties of our era: increasing poverty, declining wages and social services, inadequate health care, unemployment, homelessness, and ecological disaster—in short, the failure of capitalism. Apel reveals how, through the aesthetic distancing of representation, the haunted beauty and fascination of ruin imagery, embodied by Detroit’s abandoned downtown skyscrapers, empty urban spaces, decaying factories, and derelict neighborhoods help us to cope with our fears. But Apel warns that these images, while pleasurable, have little explanatory power, lulling us into seeing Detroit’s deterioration as either inevitable or the city’s own fault, and absolving the real agents of decline—corporate disinvestment and globalization. Beautiful Terrible Ruins helps us understand the ways that the pleasure and the horror of urban decay hold us in thrall.
“In the early twentieth century, Detroit was defined by Charles Sheeler’s photos of the River Rouge plant and Diego Rivera’s murals of work. Today, the hulking ruins of old industrial buildings and empty skyscrapers symbolize the city. In this provocative analysis, informed by urban geography, political economy, and art history, Dora Apel reflects on what images of ruined Detroit teach us about the city,  popular culture, and American capitalism.”

-Thomas J. Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit

apel_2014DORA APEL is a professor of art history and visual culture and W. Hawkins Ferry Endowed Chair in Modern and Contemporary Art History at Wayne State University in Detroit. She is the author of five books: Memory Effects: The Holocaust and the Art of Secondary Witnessing (2002), Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob (2004), Lynching Photographs, with Shawn Michelle Smith (2008), War Culture and the Contest of Images (2012), and Beautiful Terrible Ruins: Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline (forthcoming June 2015). Her work encompasses traumatic imagery and associated cultural practices, war and violence; the merging of documentary, photojournalistic, and artistic practices; the positioning of contemporary documentary within a globalized world; gender and sexuality; race and ethnicity; museum practices; globalization, cities and ruins.


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