Thursday, August 2, 2007

Thomas Demand Serpentine Gallery Catalog

Anyone who has paid even minimal attention to photography in the contemporary art world will know the work of Thomas Demand. Originally a sculptor, Demand creates large scale cardboard and craft paper constructions based on existing images usually taken from sensational news reports. He then photographs his paper sculptures and makes a final print that is on 1:1 scale to the original. After the photograph is made, the model paper construction is destroyed, leaving only the photograph as the conduit to experience his translation of the historical spaces.

These labor intensive sculptures and subsequent photographs have depicted many crime scenes or important locations from world news events. It may be the recreation of the podium from which Slobodon Milosevic rallied Serbs into a frenzy in 1989 on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the Serb defeat of Kosovo. Or the destroyed room where in 1944 officers of the Wehrmacht staged a coup against Hitler and detonated a bomb where he was holding a meeting. Demand recreates these images from the historical record in his own virtual reality. At first, they seem to be sterilized versions of real places but upon closer inspection, one can detect the scissor cuts and flawed assemblages of each scene.

“My sculptures are only imitations, dummies made up of things that carry enough symbols so as to be recognizable.”

In 2006, the Serpentine Gallery in London exhibited an installation of Demand’s photographs. Demand collaborated with the architects of the Serpentine Gallery’s Pavillion, Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond, to create links between the exhibition and the Pavillion structure. This collaboration led to Demand prepping the different gallery’s walls with block printed wallpaper to avoid the usual white cube spaces he is accustomed to exhibiting.

The center piece of the exhibition was a less political work called ‘Grotto’ which is based on a grotto in Mallorca, Spain. Demand constructed the sculpture with over 50 tons of paper (these works aren’t very ‘green.’ I hope he recycles) and it contains over 900,000 unique strata.

An exquisite catalog was created to accompany the exhibition designed by Naomi Mizusaki. This book would fall into the category of ‘sparing no expense’ in terms of design and construction. From the variety of paper used to the design it is the best of Thomas Demand’s catalogs so far.

The front cover board (papered with the same wallpapers that Demand decorated the Serpentine’s galleries) folds completely open to reveal the book block attached to only the back cover board. This is an elegant touch although keep in mind that it does stress the book when shelved vertically.

The body of the book contains 41 works four of which have gatefold sections of details. Intermixed with the work is an essay called Media as Modern Architecture by Beatriz Colomina and an extensive conversation between Demand and the literary writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge. This conversation is very interesting and entertaining to read. I find Demand to be clear and without pretense. There is a design element that I found distracting in the presentation of this text which is worth mentioning. Naomi makes a practice of highlighting in blue text certain passages from the conversation. Elsewhere this would be an indicator to the reader as to who is speaking. For example, Kluge’s comments and questions in blue text, Demand’s in black. But that is not the case here. Both speakers are recorded in both black and blue text and I cannot determine the logic. It does serve as a nice break of large blocks of text but also makes it a bit more difficult to follow the conversation.

One of the more enjoyable design elements that are a pleasant distraction is the inclusion of four pages of the actual exhibition wallpaper interspersed throughout the book. The last section of images is a series of installation photos of the entire exhibition that are reproduced on matte surface paper. What I like most about this catalog is the variety of papers used. It gives a nice physical sense to the book that feels and looks good.

Of course, elegance comes with a price, this catalog originally retailed for $75.00 USD.

There is a two volume catalog being released next year from the Fondazione Prada in which one book is entirely dedicated to the work “Grotto.” The designer again is Naomi Mizusaki, and from how it has been described to me, it may even top this one.

Book Available Here (Thomas Demand)