Thomas Demand, The Complete Papers

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2018 by MACK Books (here). Embossed hardcover in slipcase, 504 pages. Includes explanatory texts by the artist, an interview with Russell Ferguson, essay excerpts by Stuart Morgan, Francesco Bonami, Parveen Adams, Adrian Searle, Neville Wakefield, Beatriz Colomina, Ulrich Baer, Roxana Marcoci, Michael Fried, Germano Celant, Tom Gunning, Gary Shteyngart, Jacques Rancière, Karl Schlögel, Bruce Sterling, Alexander Kluge, Teju Cole, Hal Foster, and Jeff Wall, and texts/poems by Jeffrey Eugenides, Julia Franck, Ben Lerner, and Rachel Kushner. With an exhibitions list, bibliography, and list of interviews and texts by the artist. Edited by Christy Lange. Design by Naomi Mizusaki. Now in a 2019 second printing. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context:catalogue raisonné is a very particular kind of reference book, and one that hasn’t appeared nearly often enough in the history of photography. Its strength as an art historical tool lies in its strict attention to completeness – such a volume (or set of volumes) must by definition include/reproduce everything an artist has produced as a finished artwork, and do so in a manner that is delivered with uncompromised authority, so that its contents can be used (and relied upon) as a trusted source of information.

The reason that fewer photographic catalogues raisonnés exist, at least compared to those produced for artists in other mediums, is the sheer number of images produced by many of the acknowledged masters of the medium – there are often just too many works made over the course of a photographic lifetime to reasonably reproduce them all, making a full accounting of each and every frame not only a tedious, exhausting, and expensive exercise, but effectively and practically impossible, especially if the artist didn’t happen to be a meticulous record keeper. But without such a definitive resource, not only do ongoing questions of attribution and authenticity become problematic, we miss the chance to take the full measure of an artist’s entire output.

Thomas Demand, The Complete Papers is a superlative example of how a contemporary catalogue raisonné can be executed with crisp attention to both content and design. First and foremost, it takes its primary responsibilities seriously. Demand’s images are organized chronologically and separated into small, easy to digest groups for each year between 1994 and 2018 (the artist’s student work from the early 1990s is included via thumbnails in the context of the interview). Since Demand’s process of carefully constructing paper sculptures/installations which are then photographed is so painstaking, his output has rarely exceeded more than a half dozen major works in a year, making the scope of the volume manageable in terms of the total works shown.

Each work is precisely reproduced both in a single page/large size (sometimes across a spread) and then again as a thumbnail as part of a summary page (or pages) at the end of each year, with full-bleed detail close ups added here and there as additional support. The specifics of the works are provided in this summary area, with title, date, artist’s number, process, and physical dimensions shown for each work, often supported by installation shots of the works as they were exhibited – this information is factual and well organized, so it’s straightforward to find what you need. The edition size for each image is surprisingly omitted; this is an important piece of missing information, as not all of Demand’s editions are the same size. Additionally, some catalogues raisonnés go on to locate the works in public (and to a lesser extent, private) collections, but this one does not.

The design of this thick book is clean and functional, while still being quietly elegant. The single volume is housed in a sturdy slipcase, wrapped in a recent image and adorned with only a blind stamped title. The heftiness of the slipcase is important, as longevity and durability are at a premium for this kind of reference tool. The paper choices are subtle, but are employed thoughtfully to separate the main reproductions and essays (white coated stock) from the introductory conversation (light pink uncoated) and the supporting materials at the end (white uncoated). Demand’s Model Series works are also given special paper (light olive coated), smartly drawing a distinction between works where Demand builds the models and those where he is photographing paper models made by other notable architects and designers.

Each year-by-year section is introduced with a loose page of colored paper marked only with the date, set against a full bleed installation shot. My first reaction to the paper titles was that they will surely be lost/crunched/damaged over time, but the tactile, impermanent quality of the paper and the fact that they spill out when the pages are turned forces us to acknowledge Demand’s innovative use of paper, which intuitively feels aligned with his artistic mindset. It’s a risky choice, but it’s also quite lovely in terms of hand feel. The essays and texts are mixed throughout the various sections; many are reprints or excerpts from other monographs or catalogs, but there are a few new contributions as well. The topics range from broad discussions of Demand’s work, deeper meditations on one or two specific works, and more interpretive texts that introduce imagined narrative.

The extended conversation between the artist and the curator Russell Ferguson is the best piece of reading material in the entire volume. It softens the aloofness that often surrounds Demand’s work, and follows a patient progression of anecdotal discussions of the work at various stages in the arc of his career. It’s full of insights into where Demand was (geographically) at any given point, how and why he made certain works, where the source material or inspiration came from, and what his intentions were, and given that many of Demand’s pieces have a somewhat hidden backstory or drawn-from-the-headlines origin, these explanations are valuable context for the images that come later in the book – hearing just a few of the stories made me want to have backstory captions for each piece. The back and forth between the two is consistently understated and measured, without arcane theorizing or unnecessary artspeak, and even the points of serendipity in the story feel like they have been thoughtfully considered, at least in retrospect.

As an integrated whole, Thomas Demand, The Complete Papers is an impressively precise but manageable summary of his career-to-date. When seen as a complete trajectory, the rhythms and evolutions in his thinking become much more apparent. His instincts toward constructive/compositional simplicity and complexity wax and wane, elusive narratives and all-over natural near-abstractions come in cycles, an interest in video pops up now and again, and he returns to of-the-moment, politically charged themes repeatedly. When considered as a continuous flow, these patterns have an internal logic that holds together and can be followed – it all makes sense, even when one image or another seemed at first to be a digression.

This is the kind of authoritative, statement book that will undoubtedly change some people’s minds about Demand and his ultimate importance. In its own structured and methodical way, it demystifies some of the dryness that can make Demand’s photographs less than entirely approachable and subtly creates frameworks and through lines that summarize the refrains and unique points in his deliberate artistic progression. With this excellent catalogue raisonné, Demand has both cemented his position as a master of the made-to-be-photographed, and clarified why he took this unconventional road in the first place.

Collector’s POV: Thomas Demand is represented by Matthew Marks Gallery in New York (here), Sprüth Magers in Berlin (here), Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo (here), and Esther Schipper in Berlin (here). Demand’s work is generally available in the secondary markets. Recent prices have ranged between $15000 and $415000 for the works in small editions (3, 5, or 6), while works from larger editions (100) have typically found buyers between $1000 and $5000.

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