With Thomas Demand, Even the Process is Art

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THROUGHOUT HIS CAREER, the German conceptual artist Thomas Demand has given lasting life to a usually ephemeral art form—model building. Through his photographs of the models he builds (actual environments, in 1-to-1 scale), Demand breathes life into this paper world, even if the models are discarded after fulfilling their raison d’etre in front of the camera. Commenting on his approach, Demand says, “These photographs document that moment in time, and then this thing is not there anymore, and that’s what photography is usually about anyway.” His work shows us that these models are important tools that help us understand and appreciate our reality.

Not surprisingly, an architect’s office can be full of unexpected, inspired, sightings for Demand, as was the case when he visited the office of SANAA, the Pritztker-laureate Japanese firm. There he came across “a landscape of discarded models,” maquettes being very important in SANAA’s practice, both for the design process and as a way of communicating ideas. Over the course of two years of visits to the Tokyo office, Demand developed a new body of work focused on the models evolving there. “I am interested in the process of making things—the birth of the concept, the back and forth of options being considered, that moment before the project becomes a building, when ideas are still flowing, when something becomes something and other things don’t become anything,” he says. “Here you see how a building is also an idea.”

When asked what he learned from the experience of observing SANAA’s creative process at such close range, Demand responds: “Their work shows that there is a way of being contemporary and at the same time extremely traditional.”

One of the projects he witnessed maturing during his visits was the recently inaugurated (to great reviews) Grace Farms community center (aka “The River”) in New Canaan, Connecticut (not far from Philip Johnson’s Glass House). And thus, fittingly, some of the images from this series are making their premiere there, hung inside the very same buildings documented in the photos, as if proud ultrasounds of the new architectural delivery.

Next up for Demand as he continues his investigation of the creative mind is curating the exhibition L’Image Volée for the Prada Foundation in Milan. Taking place in a specially designed setting by German sculptor Manfred Pernice, the show addresses the relationship between the work of forty-five artists and the “existing imagery” they use in their own creations. The show runs from March 17 to August.