On the 14th of October, 1960, Eliot Elisofon took a now-legendary photograph of silent-era screen siren Gloria Swanson standing in the ruins of the RoxyTheatre on West 50th St. in New York City. Swanson wears a red boa and raises her arms as if to embrace what’s left of a once fantastical building. The photo ran in Life magazine, and signaled the death knell for the old movie palaces that had served as the iconic symbols of America’s primary contribution to 20th-century western culture. That one photograph inspired Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman to create the cult musical Follies (1971), set in the ruins of a theatre about to be demolished to make way for a parking lot.
In 1994, on a bus from Philadelphia to New York, painting and film student Yoichiro Yoda was driven past the last fading relics of the theatres on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. It was an inspiring journey, and one that has informed his work ever since. Yoda has immersed himself in painting and documenting New York's old theaters, but with most of these theaters now destroyed or transformed beyond recognition, he finds himself in a race against time. In his hands, the cycle of destruction and urban renewal – the relentless pursuit of profit eked out of the same small area of land – has become a personal story of discovery and attachment to the past.
Yoda’s paintings reveal personal obsessions. Charlie Chaplin and Lillian Gish mix with characters from The Shining and references to the re-emergence of roller derby as a form of vaudeville. His approach to painting has been to enter completely into this faded world of stars, theatres, disuse and dust, appropriating the past to create a new view of it; in effect, to repeatedly create reminders of what once was.
The exhibition will also screen Yoda’s most current film, The Last Days of the Hotel Pennsylvania, about the 7th Avenue hotel which is to be torn down and replaced by an office building. We see in this film a place that was once vibrant and meaningful and which has been ground under foot to create a new, blander form of urban life. There is a plangent longing for these old places, but that world has been taken irretrievably out of our reach, replaced by glass towers and chain stores.
Yoda’s painterly attention to detail brings out the architectural qualities of theaters, seats, plush covers and empty rows. While the subject matter is of an earlier New York, the painting is also reminiscent of the New York School style of painting. Yoda’s subject matter also recalls the concerns of artists such as Jack Pierson, in which nostalgia and poignant melancholy are pulled back to life to have another go at imparting meaning. And Yoda’s work brings to mind the photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto in acknowledging the serene temple-like qualities that can be found from the orderly seats and architectural details of that uniquely 20th-century development – the movie theater.
A graduate of LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, Yoda has a BFA from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and an MFA from Queens College. Until recently he was a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For more information, please contact Lis Ivers at email@example.com or 212 206-7027.