Nationalgalerie

Thomas Demand
September 18, 2009 – January 17, 2010

From left to right:

 

Studio, 1997

Parlament, 2009

Labor, 2000 

All works: C-Print, Diasec

 

Photo © Nic Tenwiggenhorn

From left to right:

 

Heldenorgel, 2009

Haltestelle, 2009

Weltkarte, 2003 

All works: C-Print, Diasec

 

Raum / Room, 1994

Chromogenic color print

 

Photo © Nic Tenwiggenhorn

Heldenorgel, 2009 (left)

Haltestelle, 2009 (right)

Both works: C-Print, Diasec

 

Photo © Nic Tenwiggenhorn

Kabine, 2002

C-Print, Diasec

 

Photo © Nic Tenwiggenhorn

Nationalgalerie

Thomas Demand
Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin
September 18, 2009 – January 17, 2010
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Thomas Demand uses around 40 images to bring together his photographic historical interpretation of the 60th anniversary of the Federal Republic as a fictional presentation. The usual screen system has been replaced with curtains. A setting that is fascinating but also raises many questions. The picture captions in display cases added by dramatist Botho Strauß remain controversial.

 

Endless curtains, so heavy, gloomy and theatrical that not a single ray of light penetrates their fabric. The curtain materials in the New National Gallery, which are linked together to form labyrinthine chambers, cascade from ceiling to floor in mossy colours. Photographs by Thomas Demand are pinned onto them like specimens in a butterfly collection. This setting of a walk-in stage situation is deliberately kept dusty, and only ostensibly forms a contrast with Mies van der Rohe’s modernistic post-war architecture with its glass cube as a transparent crown. Van der Rohe had nothing against either room partitions or curtains.

 

Now Thomas Demand is giving the museum foyer, which has been converted into exhibition space, a material centre – in both senses. Under the title Nationalgalerie (National Gallery) his display, furnished with so-called images of Germany, embraces the myth of the Federal Republic in its political constants as well as its social aberrations. In itself it is an emotional contact with a work that encompasses around 15 years, which is further reinforced by the texts of poet Botho Strauß in display cases. Demand, who has become world-famous with his models of rooms steeped in history and portrayed through photography, styles himself as belonging to the elite of great German minds. How much sarcasm is veiled within that remark remains to be seen.

 

Scenes of contemporary events in cardboard and paper

Thomas Demand, who was born in 1964 in Munich, has developed an art concept he invented to a highly sophisticated level. The artist, who now lives in Berlin, reconstructs appropriately well-known settings or scenes of contemporary events in life size using paper and cardboard. After that he uses a large-format camera to take a photographic look at the room situation, which is devoid of all distractions and therefore abstracted. Locations portrayed by him so far, which have long become etched on the collective consciousness, include the Stasi headquarters in Berlin’s Normannenstrasse that was trashed by demonstrators, the lectern in the former plenary chamber in Bonn, a seedy pub in Saarbrücken as a supposed backdrop for an incident of child abuse ...

 

Although it takes a lot of effort to create them, Demand destroys his paper models once the photograph is finished. Places where a historically relevant event took place that have been photographed to death by the media are released again as a projection screen by Demand’s ongoing purification process. On seeing the pictures for the first time, you believe that you can only remember vaguely what really happened to the object, room or place focused on by Demand. The bathtub for instance, in which politician Uwe Barschel mysteriously died, has become an icon. But at the same time the blue-tiled bathroom implies a run-of-the-mill aesthetic as can be found post-1945 in German new builds. The banality of horror is under democratic auspices here.

 

Ultimately Demand’s aim is to keep showing people how fuzzy our memory function becomes over time, the extent to which details are worn away to a smooth finish. Here he refers to brain research. According to its findings he does not believe in fixed “memory images” but in “memory processes” which use connections in the brain to reassemble the remembered material each time afresh and differently.

 

A world without photos – on the trail of Botho Strauß

Oddly enough, people gradually seem to be suppressing the fact that Demand comes from a generation characterised by the artistic discourse between Jean Baudrillard and Gilles Deleuze. The concept of simulacrum was on everybody’s lips at the time when he was studying, which referred to not being able to distinguish between the copy and the original and therefore the abundant referencelessness in pictures. One could have hoped for at least the odd allusion to that in the enthusiastic reviews of Demand’s exhibition in the New National Gallery.

 

Instead everyone jumped on the trail leading to Botho Strauß – which the artist laid himself. “A man withdrew into a world without photos. In the same way that other people suffer from a light phobia, he was controlled by a loathing of all that is written with light, all photo-graphy.” High notes such as these from Botho Strauß back up Demand’s artistic transformation process from the second to the third dimension and back again. Demand chose the nationally-minded German dramaturge as a lawyer for his act of sublimation. Admittedly the literary play of solemnity really starts to get on your nerves by the fifth picture exhibit at the latest. Botho Strauß‘ sentences do not enrich the photographic model world, instead they detract from the titillating ambiguity between fiction and document, mock-up and historical misrepresentation in Demand’s image motifs, which are always politically barbed. Demand is still too full of vitality to be accepted into the elite of German art. It can be said in his favour that he is only being half-serious with his narcissistic hero worship. At least his art characterises the precarious poise between hype and enlightenment.

 

Birgit Sonna and Jo Beckett

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