Thomas Demand b. 1964, Munich
Silver dye bleach print, face-mounted to acrylic
72 3/8 x 90 7/8 inches (183.8 x 230.8 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Purchased with funds contributed by the Young Collectors Council, 1997
Using flimsy materials such as paper or cardboard, Thomas Demand constructs life-size models of architectural spaces in which events of historic or popular significance have taken place. He then photographs the models to re-create the image that he originally selected from the Internet or newspaper. His work thus engages formal intersections between photography, sculpture, and architecture while commenting on the power of both space and the photographic image to affect public consciousness saturated by mass media. “I like to imagine the sum of all the media representations of the event as a kind of landscape,” he says, “and the media industry as the tour bus company that takes us through these colorful surrounds.” Key for Demand is that the original event, with its real context, is utterly absent from his photograph; there is not the slightest trace. It is only the deceived eye of the viewer that might make the association. Implicit here is a critique of the assumption that the photograph is a guarantor of truth.
Representative of mass media's tendencies, many of the stories Demand chooses are violent or linked to grim situations. Corridor (1995) depicts the hallway leading to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment; Office (1996) reconstructs the East Berlin headquarters of the Stasi secret police. These images lack any sort of human presence as well as the horrible, visceral evidence that would have accompanied actual events in such places. Instead, they might be said to speak to Hannah Arendt's “banality of evil,” the notion that evil may persist best when perceived as ordinary by its perpetrators. These silent, unexceptional spaces thus take on a sinister edge. They are uncanny—familiar to everyone, yet occlusive of darker forces beneath their cleansed surfaces. In Archive (1995), the reconstruction of Nazi propagandist and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl's personal inventory is strangely lit, the boxes suspiciously generic and unlabeled. Demand has here, as he does in many works, left clues to his image's artificiality. The resolute blankness of the scene is a reminder of our distance from the actual place and events referenced and the photograph’s unsettling ability to replace memory, to supplant the real, particularly for history that entire societies experience. “Things enter reality through photography,” Demand declares. “Tourists don’t know they’ve seen the sights until they can match their experiences to picture postcards.”