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Indepth Arts News:

"Thomas Demand: L’Esprit d’Escalier"
2007-02-28 until 2007-03-31
Irish Museum of Modern Art
Dublin, , IE

An exhibition of work by one of Germany’s most innovative contemporary artists, Thomas Demand, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 28 February 2007. L’Esprit d’Escalier presents an overview of Demand’s recent work and comprises 24 large-scale photographic pieces, plus a new screening device, designed by Caruso St. John Architects, London, specially for this exhibition at IMMA to show the work Rolltreppe (Escalator), 2000. Ranging from 1995 to date, the exhibition presents such familiar works as Archiv (Archive), 1995. Others have never been shown before - including Landing, 2006, Demand’s photographic response to a mishap in January 2006 at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge when a visitor fell down a staircase, crashing into three 18th-century oriental vases, among the most important artifacts at the museum, smashing them into hundreds of pieces.

Demand is best known for his unique approach to photography – the subjects of his large-format photographs are painstakingly constructed three-dimensional, life-size models of architecture and objects, devoid of human presence. Once they have been photographed, the models are destroyed. Demand has also recently begun to make 35 mm films, setting his cinematic still images in motion.

Demand began as a sculptor and took up photography to record his ephemeral paper constructions. From 1993 he began making constructions for the sole purpose of photographing them. Beginning with a pre-existing image culled from the media, usually of a political or historical event, he translates this image into a life-size model made of coloured paper and cardboard. In Treppenhaus (Staircase), 1995, Demand brings to his work his own experience of post-war Germany, a country filled with Third Reich–era buildings, for which the period in which Demand grew up held the promise of reconstruction. He has recreated the Bauhaus-style stairway of his secondary school, built in the 1950s, alluding to the utopian idea in post-war Germany that architecture could create a better future.

Combining craftsmanship and conceptualism in equal parts, Demand highlights the unreliability of photography in a world saturated with images. His photographed scenes initially look real, but on closer inspection reveal a lack of detail that conveys a certain tension between the institutional blankness of each photograph and the loaded cultural background that informs them. Lichtung (Clearing), 2003, re-creates the Giardini, a public garden in Venice. Made of 270,000 individually cut ‘leaves’ of green paper, the photograph is cinematic in its panoramic scale and dramatic use of light. Playing on the nostalgia of Romantic landscape painting, Demand suggests that not even the natural environment should be taken for granted - he has employed a 10,000-watt lamp that is normally used in the film industry to achieve the effect of sunlight breaking through the leaves.

Demand also depicts contemporary events, for example in Poll, 2001. Here, he works on scenes from the 2000 American presidential election and the media coverage of the results of the voting in Florida, using electronic photos issued by the news agency Reuters. Poll reveals rows of desks topped by Demand’s numberless telephones, uniform memo pads, and blank paper ballots carefully sorted into piles.

The intriguing title of the exhibition, L’Esprit d’Escalier, derives from the French phrase which literally means ‘wit of the staircase’ and refers to the regret one feels after missing an opportunity to deliver a witty comeback or parting shot.

Thomas Demand was born in Munich in 1964 and lives in Berlin. He represented Germany at the Bienal de São Paulo in 2004 and his work was the subject of a mid-career survey at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2005. He has exhibited widely and recent solo shows include the Serpentine Gallery, London, 2006, and the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 2006.

The exhibition is curated by Rachael Thomas, Senior Curator: Head of Exhibitions, IMMA.

The exhibition is accompanied by a full-colour publication, produced in association with Walther König Books, and includes a previously published text from Girl with Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace. A number of newly commissioned texts by Ulrich Baer, Professor of German and Comparative Literature, New York University; Dave Eggers, writer; Paul Oliver, author and producer; Caoimhín Mac Giolla Leith, curator, critic and Professor of Modern Irish at University College Dublin, Rachael Thomas and an afterword by Enrique Juncosa, Director, IMMA, are also included.

Thomas Demand,
Landing, 2006,
C-Print, framed,
approx. 290 x 180 cm
© Thomas Demand,
VG Bild Kunst, Bonn / DACS, London 2006

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