Photographs can seem convincingly real or strangely artificial. The work of German-born and internationally acclaimed artist, Thomas Demand, achieves a disquieting balance between the two. Born in 1964, Demand trained as a sculptor and took up photography to record his ephemeral paper constructions. In 1993 he turned the tables, henceforth making constructions for the sole purpose of photographing them. Combining conceptualism and craftsmanship in equal parts, Demand pushes the medium of photography toward uncharted frontiers.
Viewers seeing Thomas Demand’s photographs for the first time might not immediately realize their significance and their background narrative. Lacking any explanatory text when they are displayed in galleries, the images show empty places with no identifying detail. Looking at a conference room filled with debris, the viewer might not recognize it as the location of a failed political assassination attempt on Hitler; facing ordinary apartment scenes, one could not guess that they are from the Embassy of Niger in Rome, where somebody broke in and stole blank stationery, which were later printed on to suggest, falsely, that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger; they could miss the fact that a slightly shabby kitchen was one where the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein cooked his last meal before his capture.
Demand begins with a preexisting images culled from the media, usually of a political event, which he translates into a life-size model made of colored paper and cardboard. His handcrafted facsimiles of architectural spaces and natural environments are built in the image of other images. Thus, his photographs are triply removed from the scenes or objects they purport to depict. Once they have been photographed, the models are destroyed.
Three photographic works are displayed in the main hall of COD (Center for Openness and Dialogue): Tribute, 2011, Attraction, 2013 as well as Sign, 2015 a new work exhibited for the first time in the present show. It depicts a workshop scene where a sign is being produced for the New York World’s Fair Building The World of Tomorrow. The Fair, held in 1939, promoted one of the last great narratives of the Machine Age: the unqualified belief in science and technology as a means to economic prosperity and personal freedom, while emphasizing product consumption and the new-ness of ideas and forms. Hence, the handshake symbolizes ‘partnership between the people of the world by consumerism’. Portrayed here in an unfinished state, Sign seems to hint at the ongoing and unresolved, disquieting and hopeful matters that it once signified.
Thomas Demand lives and works between Los Angeles and Berlin. His work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions worldwide, including the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 2009; the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2007; the Serpentine Gallery, London, 2006; the Fondazione Prada, Italy, 2006; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2005; Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, 2004 and the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris, 2000.
This exhibition will take place from July 9 -September 30, 2015