The German artist Thomas Demand has been creating large-scale images of interior spaces since he moved away from sculpture in the early 1990s. Lounges, offices, meeting points and hotel rooms are all captured in a detached objectivity that follows the artistic language established by the infamous Düsseldorf school. Upon closer inspection, however, the clinical atmosphere of emptiness and the heightened absence of human presence is disrupted by construction imperfections that relate to the photographed venues. Little traces of pencil marks, flattened surfaces and sharp edges slowly reveal that each composition is utterly artificial - a life-size paper model put up by Demand himself. Along with this realisation comes also the information that his impermanent mock-ups are based on press images of locations where a historical event took place. ‘Office’, for example, recreates the 1990 ransack of the Stasi Central Office by frenzied East Berliners.
Yet Demand’s new ‘Latent Forms’ series, currently on display at Sprüth Magers, mark a stark departure from his distinctive photographic style. Although three-dimensional architectural models remain his subjects, Demand has neither constructed them nor photographed them to look like real places. Drawing on his 2011 ‘Model Studies’ project, for which he experimented with John Lautner’s architectural scale models, Demand visited the studios of the Japanese architecture firm SANAA and photographed their discarded maquettes in a straightforward fashion. By isolating parts of the models and focusing on their forms and textures, Demand transformed the compositions from unrealised projects to objects in their own artistic right. His skillful use of muted colours and soft light emphasise their abstract geometric structure producing strongly classicising compositions.
Turning a mundane object into an elegant sculpture through its close-up documentation might initially appear less powerful and dynamic than Demand’s previous politically charged work. But to simply link this series to the 1930s ‘straight’ photography of modernism is to overlook one of the most compelling shifts in his work. Here, the subject ceases to be a paper model imitating spaces once in existence, and becomes a model of a rejected pitch or original that never existed. Not only does Demand walk the line between the real and the fictional, drawing our attention to the ways in which reality is constructed but he also reproduces subjects that signify the absence of a basic reality. It is not fortuitous that for this exhibition the pattern of the gallery’s wallpaper is reminiscent of wrapping paper.
Only time will tell whether these photographs constitute a turning point in the evolution of Demand’s oeuvre. One thing is for certain, though - ‘Latent Forms’ take the exploration of reality a step further, providing a greater depth of sight into Demand’s artistic output.