Acclaimed German artist Thomas Demand is best known for his large scale photographs that question the medium as a faithful record of reality. His exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary is a result of a residency at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles where he discovered the archive of the celebrated architect John Lautner (1911 – 1994). Lautner’s glamorous and curvaceous homes have featured in many films, including the 1971 Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.
Demand himself has a keen interest in architecture. “Architecture has always been in the centre of my attention, because it deals with utopias and ideas of a somehow better future,” he has said. His own art involves making painstaking paper models of architectural interiors and other built environments and then photographing them. Despite the absence of people and his often deceptively ordinary scenes, they are loaded with significance. He has made models of the Oval Office of the US President, the tunnel in Paris where Princess Diana had her fatal accident and a Florida counting station where a contested vote in 2000 elected George W.Bush instead of Al Gore.
Demand’s exhibition is based on 12 architectural models he discovered in the Lautner archive. Demand’s own models are destroyed immediately after he has photographed them. “They have one peak of perfectness, of immaculate beauty, sometimes just for a day or two. If you don’t catch the shot on that day, it’s gone,” he has said. In contrast Lautner’s models are old, bruised and well-used, a humble counterpoint to his heroic, spectacular architecture.
This is the first time that Demand has photographed models that are not his own. Depicting them from many angles, he establishes an intimate relationship with them that is independent of the buildings they refer to. “I tried to avoid making images of architecture,” Demand writes. “It’s the sculptural presence, and the traces of someone’s practice, of understanding and remodelling, which raised my attention.” Demand’s beautiful photographs also recall the history of 20th century art. The lines, planes, textures and colours he composes from the models recall Modern painting and sculpture, including Picasso’s reliefs, as well as mid-20th century abstract painting.
Born in 1964 in Munich Thomas Demand is one of Germany’s most prominent artists. He has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Serpentine Gallery in London and the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, as well as representing Germany at the Venice Biennale of 2003. He has often collaborated with Caruso St John, architects of Nottingham Contemporary, on the designs of his exhibitions.
With special thanks to Esther Schipper.