American Ruins: Challenging Ideas of Progress

Antonio Turok (Mexican, b. 1955), <i>Old Studebaker Factory, South Bend, Indiana</i>, 2009, Digital pigment print. Gift of the artist, 2009.035

Antonio Turok (Mexican, b. 1955), Old Studebaker Factory, South Bend, Indiana, 2009, Digital pigment print. Gift of the artist, 2009.035


Ruins typically signify failure, defeat, and the past. Why, then, in a nation that repeatedly has defined itself in terms of success and progress have visions of ruin captured the American imagination? This online exhibition of twenty photographs considers American ruins in relation to the nation’s industrial history, domestic spaces, the American West, and the personal fascination of one artist—Camilo José Vergara—with ruined landscapes.

The exhibition opposes ruination with progress as the photographs trouble the myths of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny. By examining photographs of ruination across time and space, the viewers can begin to understand how confronting past or present ruins create the opportunity to re-imagine national ideals and offers essential lessons for the future.

American Ruins: Challenging Ideas of Progress was organized by students in the fall 2013 American Studies course American Ruins, taught by Professor Erika Doss.