JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 large scale color photographs, framed in grey and unmatted, and hung against grey walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are archival inkjet prints, made between 1997 and 2008. The prints on view range in size from roughly 23×23 to 49×71, with an outlier panorama at 14×44; edition sizes are generally 5 or 10. A short summary video is being shown on a small screen. A monograph of this body of work was published in 2009 by Hatje Cantz (here). (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: With tensions once again rising between Russia and the West, Martin Roemers’ images of left over Cold War relics are a timely and cautionary reminder of how things used to be, and how they could be once again. Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this exhibit gathers together a decade of images of abandoned tunnels, empty control stations, rusting tanks, and peeling inspirational murals found all over Europe (although primarily in the once divided Germany), meticulously documenting the now forgotten and overlooked remnants that still linger from those more anxious saber-rattling times.
Roemers’ photographs find an uneasy balance between the lushness of colors and textures and the destructive impulse of this rotting infrastructure. The missile silos and listening posts are now impotent, but the glorious mustard yellow of an interrogation room in a Stasi prison doesn’t temper the memories of its former ferocity. The pictures wander toward the decaying grandeur of ruin porn, only to be abruptly stood up by the captions explaining the former functions and duties of any given dissolving hulk or wreckage. The radio room in a Dutch nuclear shelter looks to have been designed with curving Modernist elegance, while robin’s egg blue paint in a Soviet hospital surrounds a broken (and scarily imposing) gynecologist’s chair. Time is wearing away the hard edges of these places, but they still seem haunted by old fears.
Roemers’ pictures are really about this process of gradual erosion. Technical prowess, patriotism, aspirational energy, frenetic paranoia, they’ve all been drained away from these once strategic (and often secret) locations. A whiff of delusional futility is left behind, posing incisive questions about motives that seemed so obvious at the time. While empty brick factories tell the story of our changing industrial patterns, these relics are physical reminders of our former distrust and hyper alertness. Roemers has found surprising beauty in submerged bunkers and graffiti-covered spy stations, but the echoes of former aggression are still embedded there, like ghostly evidence in the crumbling debris.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced in rising editions, based on size. Nearly all of the works on view are prints in the smaller size, and so are generally priced at $3400 each (the price for the first two prints in the edition); the larger prints begin at $8100. Roemers’ work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.