JTF (just the facts): A total of 18 large scale color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in a series of three rooms. All of the works are dye-transfer prints made between 2008 and 2012. Physical dimensions range from roughly 18×22 to 48×37 (or reverse) and all of the images are available in editions of 6. A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Mack Books (here). (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Thomas Demand’s tricks are so familiar by now that they should be tiresome. Once more, he and his crew have taken scenes from photographs, reconstructed them in paper and then re-photographed the results—figments of the real world held at a studied remove: pictures about pictures.
This time, his source materials are snapshots retrieved from his cell phone. An indiscriminate record of observations, mainly in public rather than private spaces, they could be the residue of anyone’s bored wanderings along a trail nowhere in particular. As autobiographic clues, they enhance his guarded, rather chilly artistic persona.
The generic scenes and objects include photographs of blinds in a window; an electric socket that has come undone from the wall; an interlocked pair of brown plastic cups wedged into a hole in a chain link fence; a patch of exposed ceiling where acoustic tiles have fallen off; a black comb on a steel shelf under a bathroom mirror; a rolled up bunch of orange plastic netting; a red plastic sign on a metal door handle; a sidewalk grating; a coffee-ringed saucer on a table; and a score of cigarette butts buried in the sand of a hotel lobby ashtray.
“Dailies” is like a series of outtakes or close-ups from his 2005 MoMA retrospective. Gone is any political or news content, as well as the elaborate handiwork that went into recent work, such as “Control Room” (his 2011 view of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster) and “Pacific Sun” (a 2012 video from YouTube of sliding chairs and tables aboard a storm-tossed ship.) The finely tuned appreciation for European banalities on display here is similar to William Eggleston’s for American trash. Postmodern fabricators like Demand, though, are more intent on creating separation anxiety in viewers. That the effort to close the gap between the image and some kind of origina leads nowhere except in circles must amuse him as he hasn’t tired of the joke. (Matthew Marks might consider pairing Demand with Robert Gober in a two-person show so audiences could compare their different senses of cerebral humor. )
What is different about this new series is Demand’s rendering of these isolated objects and constricted spaces as dye-transfers. It’s a process that tempts artists to go for maximum luster and saturation. Demand doesn’t. Perhaps his North German sensibility (he was born in Munich but works in Berlin) isn’t enticed by splashy brilliance. The dominant shade in these prints is a matte smoky gray.
There is a picture here of leaves through a misted window that recalls Demand’s luminous 2003 mural “The Clearing” on the back wall of MoMA’s restaurant. It’s his control over light and color that makes his pictures so intriguing. He is rightfully fascinated by the mind’s ability (and need) to read surfaces—to distinguish substances such as “leaf” from “glass,” “metal” from “plastic”—even after we know that his entire world is built out of paper. Demand would have bored himself and us long ago did he not continue to demonstrate a bedrock respect for the craft of photography and its unbreakable relationship with that hard-to-define thing called reality.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at €30000 each. Demand’s work is generally available in the secondary markets. Recent prices have ranged between $15,000 and $260,000 for the works in small editions (3, 5, or 6), while works from larger editions (100) have typically found buyers between $1,000 and $5,000.