Thomas Demand, one of the most influential and pioneering artists of our day, presented an extensive solo show at the Neue Nationalgalerie from September 2009. While he has had major exhibitions dedicated to his work in such cities as London, New York and Zurich, the show in Berlin was his largest presentation in Germany to date. Entitled Nationalgalerie (National Gallery), the exhibition is not, however, a general retrospective of his work up to now, rather it is purposefully dedicated to one theme in particular – perhaps the most important in all of Demand’s richly diverse body of work: Germany. Correspondingly, the exhibition coincides with the anniversaries of two pivotal historical events in German history: the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany 60 years ago and the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago.
The approximately 35 works on display, which include new, previously unshown pieces, deal with social and historical events since 1945 and their immediate background. However, Demand’s pictures do not merely bear reference to exceptional moments in history. Alongside momentous political and societal events and instantly recognizable scenes, the exhibition includes works which depict the private and incidental, but which represent equally a kaleidoscopic part of a particular time and society.
Thomas Demand is not a photographer in the classical sense, but rather someone who documents our various media worlds and is both a reproducer and an illusionist. Photography is the medium in which his works are preserved and exhibited. The artist often finds his subjects in the mass media using them as the starting point to recreate a particular spatial situation as paper sculptures, which are then made into a two-dimensional image with the use of a large format camera and meticulous attention to detail. In a conceptual sense, Thomas Demand is a sculptor as much as he is a photographer. Specific traces of the reproduced incident are systematically erased from the three-dimensional, life-size reconstructions; and so too are the people present in the original photographs. What remains are phantom images of ‘crime scenes’ of missing events which often appear just as familiar to us as they are impalpable.