GREG GIRARD at Monte Clark Gallery (55 Mill, Building 2), today (Thursday, October 18) to November 11. 416-703-1700. Rating: NNNN
In the 1930s, Shanghai was the crown jewel of Jazz Age elegance, its economic confidence evident in one of the largest assortments of art deco buildings in the world.
A Maoist moratorium on development, however, wore the sheen off the grand hotels and palatial apartments, consigning them to 50 years of grubby, one-family-to-a-room living after the Great Leap Forward.
Now Shanghai is undergoing a bigger boom. It's skyline is more impressive than Manhattan's, and the last traces of the old city are being swept aside as the population is pushed in a new direction yet again. This time state-mandated super-capitalists are calling the shots.
Greg Girard's intimate, astute photographs of two eras and two systems in head-on collision are riveting, but not predictably so. Avoiding a sentimental or heavy-handed visual parable about urban change and development, he opts for a quiet and deeply observant approach, letting the interiors and facades speak for themselves.
An apartment stairwell is overwhelmed by 20 or more separate mailboxes seemingly nailed up at random. Rags are neatly hung in a row near the sink of a communal bathroom. A doorway is overgrown with a thick tangle of pirated cable wires.
The same inhabited quality comes through in his exterior shots of deco mansions squatting in the rubble with the sort of world-weariness you'd expect of their tenants.
In Former Cinema Lobby, a grand crystal chandelier hangs from a blue and gold painted ceiling, under which a trio of weathered motor scooters are parked near a cheap electric fan and a cage of parakeets.
The magic of Girard's photographs comes from the way they evoke sympathy and curiosity even as they mourn the passing of an era.
This review is of Part One of Girard's show. Part Two opens today (Thursday, October 18).