Ruin Lust, Tate Britain, London

Tate Britain’s transhistorical Ruin Lust will reveal the importance of ruins in art from the 17th century to the present day, detailing the evolution of the subject over 400 years. From 4 March to 18 May, the gallery will showcase the work of artists such as JMW Turner, Eduardo Paolozzi, Tacita Dean and many others in the widest ranging exhibition on this subject to date. Engaging with multiple forms of media across over 100 pieces, the exhibition guides audiences through the myriad of representations of the destroyed and abandoned, and questions how these spaces will be used in the future.

Characteristic of the 18th century was a focus on the picturesque nature of ruins. Exploring the country for abandoned buildings and idyllic landscapes, artists, writers and architects of this period were heavily influenced by the poignant beauty of ruins. The exhibition displays works by John Constable and JMW Turner, such as Tintern Abbey: the Crossing and Chancel, Looking towards the East Window (JMW Turner, 1794) which captures the haunting atmosphere of the former monastery, both mourning historical loss and celebrating the unique result.

Other works in the collection demonstrate recent and inventive approaches to ruins. Artists such as Keith Arnatt engage with this artistic heritage of the ruinous subject in a playful and comic way. Arnatt’s collection of black-and-white photographs, A.O.N.B (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) (1982-4), juxtaposes the historic and contemporary at sites of national heritage. His deadpan series examines how the modern world interacts and envelops its past. Rachel Whiteread’s Demolished – B: Clapton Park Estate depicts the immediacy of destruction in the present day by capturing the demolition of Hackney tower blocks. The exhibition is concerned with both slow decay and abrupt annihilation.

Two rooms will be devoted to Tacita Dean and Gerard Byrne. Dean’s film Kodak investigates the ruin of the image as the 16mm film is superseded by modern technology and yearns for the appreciation of the earlier form. The installation 1984 and Beyond by Gerard Byrne recreates a 1963 discussion between science-fiction writers, published in Playboy in which they wonder how the world may be in 1984. This interesting installation imagines a world never realised, a theme which reappears in works provoked by the wars of the last century.

Ruin Lust, 4 March – 18 May, Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG. For more information:

1. Jane and Louise Wilson Azeville (2006). Copyright Tate / Jane and Louise Wilson.