Still reeling from a recent trip to the revamped MoMA. If anyone's work stuck with me, it's Thomas Demand's. At once photography's number-one asset & number-one liability is the realism hardwired into the medium's technical DNA: chemically aping the human eye's sensitivity to light. Demand, now enjoying a mid-career retrospective
, tapes & glues calculatedly inexact paper sculptures of documentary photos, connecting him, for better/worse, to Richter & Gursky. Peeling the detail & affect off his appropriated subjects, he outs himself as a mere counterfeiter of reality. Demand is an evacuation artist, shouting Fire!
in the crowded cinemas of history & mass media, diminishing once-real, once-dirty milieus into pristine impersonality: serene, banal, unpopulated.
Throughout his corpus, the blitzkrieg on photography's mimetic ambitions is the constant. The subject is the variable, where Demand nests allusions within allusions, Chinese box-style. Each photo drops us down startlingly slippery tunnels of reference. Take the drab-at-a-glance "Staircase":
Attempting a carbon copy of his high-school stairway, Demand channels Bauhaus
, & with it both 1) the Third Reich’s rejection of the movement & 2) the fairy tale, rife in postwar Germany, of a virtuous architecture yielding a virtuous democracy. Kimmelman OTM
A patch of grass that he photographed turns out to be a laborious paper reproduction of a patch of grass, made blade by blade, which brings to mind a photograph by Mr. Gursky of a gray patch of carpet, itself devised as an ironic riff on Gerhard Richter's all-gray paintings, which harked yet further back to Jackson Pollock's drips.
Demand's rabbit-hole worms through the earth's core. Conceptualism & craftsmanship mix impressively, each work a self-reflexive ars poetica
that avoids dipping into the murk of pomo onanism.