Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nationalgalerie by Thomas Demand

The second of my installments of best books of 2009 also comes from Steidl, Thomas Demand Nationalgalerie.

This is a catalog was published in conjunction with Demand's exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and it was timed to mark two points in German history - the 60 year anniversary of the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since Demand's work always concerns itself with pivotal moments in history and reconstructing an artificial representation to be re-imagined and "remembered", this timing could not be more perfect.

As with many of Demand's books/catalogs there is a strong attempt to make an elegant object. Nationalgalerie has stark, egg-shell colored buckram covers much like any common library book - simple typography announces the title. Opening to beautiful wall-paper style endpapers, each of the 38 plates is printed on two-page foldouts which require care and patience to view. On the cover of each foldout short text passages by the German playwright Botho Strauß are printed. The passages less explain the images directly but philosophically question what we are seeing and re-experiencing.

For this exhibition, Demand chose exclusively 'German' works inspired by German history. Looking through the sequence, Demand jumbles that history into a distorted timeline that questions the relationship of one moment to the next, much in the same way that Richter's Atlas or Schmidt's Un-i-ty does through their own free association of images.

The plates in Thomas Demand Nationalgalerie are beautifully printed on fine paper stock and the size allows each image to be reproduced at a large scale. This scale is important yet not for the usual reasons. Demand's paper constructions lack the pollution of exacting details which photography usually obsesses over. His is a less cluttered representation where the viewer might be side-stepped by the small imperfections in his constructions momentarily but the overall cleanliness invites us to inhabit each in ways we wouldn't if it were a historical image. As Strauß writes of Demand, "Art alone has the power to exchange much for little. Consider Demand's models of sublimated space. The magical emptiness clears our world of a great deal of superfluity."

The one draw back to Demand's work in book form is that the same images are present in several volumes often making ownership of more than one unnecessary. I have acquired several over the years but the ones I have kept are few. The 2006 Serpentine Gallery catalog I wrote about last year is a must, the 2007 Processo Grottesco is a must have for the wealth of source material and wonderful design, and now this new Nationalgalerie volume has bumped a couple of the earlier retrospective books like the 2005 MoMA catalog and the 2000 Cartier catalog off my shelves. If you are looking for your first book from one of Germany's most important artists, look no further.