From Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art


Edited by Brian Dillon

A comprehensive examination of “ruins” of the modern era in contemporary art and cultural theory.





A comprehensive examination of “ruins” of the modern era in contemporary art and cultural theory.

The “ruins” of the modern era are the landmarks of recent art's turn toward site and situation, history and memory. The abiding interest of artists in ruination and decay has led in particular to the concept of the modern ruin—an ambiguous site of artistic and architectural modernism, personal and collective memories, and the cultural afterlife of eras such as those of state communism and colonialism. Contemporary art's explorations of the ruin can evoke on the one hand diverse experiences of nostalgia and on the other a ceaselessly renewed encounter with catastrophes of the recent past and apprehensions of the future. For every relic of a harmonious era or utopian dream stands another recalling industrial decline, environmental disaster, and the depredations of war.

This anthology provides a comprehensive survey of the contemporary ruin in cultural discourse, aesthetics, and artistic practice. It examines the development of ruin aesthetics from the early modern era to the present; the ruin as a privileged emblem of modernity's decline; the relic as a portal onto the political history of the recent past; the destruction and decline of cities and landscapes, with the emergence of “non-places” and “drosscape”; the symbolism of the entropic and decayed in critical environmentalism; and the confusing temporalities of the ruin in recent art—its involution of timescales and perspectives as it addresses not just the past but the future.


$24.95 T ISBN: 9780262516372 240 pp. | 5.75 in x 8.25 in

Not for sale in Europe or the UK.


Brian Dillon

Brian Dillon's books include Essayism, In the Dark Room, Objects in This Mirror, and Sanctuary. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, the Guardian, frieze, and Artforum. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Queen Mary, University of London, and Visiting Professor in Writing at the Royal College of Art.


  • A useful primer on a subject of perennial interest. Each generation finds something new among the ruins, and this is a good guide to the ruin in contemporary art.

    Library Journal


  • Here the ruin is not the end of an artefact but rather the beginning of an investigation. From the forensic analysis of the physicality of fragments—revealing the relations that go into the making and unmaking of objects and commodities—to the virtual debris of philosophy, it is in its ruined form that a thing reveals its fossilized forces; and from this scattered mess we can start to assemble the connections of a new reality.

    Eyal Weizman

    Architect; Director of the Centre of Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London

  • Under Brian Dillon's inspired editorial guidance, this survey of the moods and meanings of ruin and dereliction is as thought-provoking and perceptive as it is intrinsically poetic. It will offer its riches to anyone who has pondered what might be termed the mortality of materials, and read in their demise new and strange accounts of our own condition.

    Michael Bracewell

    writer, novelist and cultural commentator