Thomas Demand: Model Studies @ Nottingham Contemporary

Thomas Demand’s current exhibition at the Nottingham Contemporary displays a selection of abstract style photographs, taken of small-scale design models by the acclaimed architect John Lautner.  Lautner’s models, which were discovered by Demand at the Getty Research Institute, are captured in an intense close-up format that highlights the corroded models and detracts from the unique space-age style buildings as a whole. Highlighting the significance of space and light, Model Studies also shows appreciation for the beauty of mistakes and imperfections that were particularly inevitable in Lautner’s work; Demand points out that he was a poor draftsman and that Model Studies was in no way a homage to the architect, but more of a starting point.

The contrast between Thomas Demand’s past work and this exhibition is clear in several ways. Firstly Demand’s previous models were on a 1:1 scale and often depicted a whole room, area or object. This meant that the settings were in no way distorted and the viewer knew what was depicted. However, in Model Studies the close-up captions of small-scale models make the viewer question what the subject matter is.  Another shift in artistic style occurred as a result of the circumstances in which Demand photographed Model Studies, as his interaction with the models was very much controlled; a method that was foreign to him.  The Getty Research Institute did not allow him to touch Lautner’s models or use unnatural light during the process. This meant that he only had two to three hours a day to capture the models in daylight. For Demand, this meant that his work was more spontaneous and fun than anything else he had produced and that the clinical and forced aspect to it had changed to embrace the human errors that were apparent in both Demand’s photographs and Lautner’s models. This use of close-up creates something very interesting that his previous work did not.  The selection of shapes and their positioning in the pictorial space creates a very satisfying relationship between the contours on the flat plain of the photographic surface and results in a visual that reflects abstract expressionist art.

In an image from Marina Fine Arts, the abstract mode of the images creates a frame within a frame; the linear shapes correspond to the actual framed space, creating an aesthetically pleasing piece that adds to Demand’s specific and limited colour palette. In more literal and physical terms, the significance of the frame and display is very important to Demand (as said in the Film shown in a separate room of the exhibition), because he chose the size of the prints, after long deliberation, to be door-sized. This means that not only do the pieces consume the viewer, but they also act as an architectural element of the gallery environment.

Demand’s past work was extremely clinical and focused on a perfected moment. By creating these hauntingly human-less environments, he points out that these spaces were meant for human activity. The sculptures he created to photograph were usually destroyed straight after. This added a banal aspect to his work, leading me to ask whether Demand’s change in artistic direction is a reflection of consumerist society and how rapidly changing styles leads us to believe that decomposition is inevitable.

It is hard for me to acknowledge if this is an intentional message that Thomas Demand wanted to portray.  However, by not discussing this issue in the interview with the curator, I am led to believe that he had a less political angle on his work and a more primarily aesthetic stance, which was based on seeing the beauty of effects over time, not a single moment of purposely forced perfection.  The limiting effects of photographing Lautner’s models encouraged more of a celebration of time and decomposition than a critique of it.

Thomas Demand’s Model Studies is on display until the 15th April 2012.  On Thursday 12th April 2012 at 7pm, Demand will be talking to Joseph Grima, the Editor-in-Chief of Domus Magazine, at the Nottingham Contemporary.

Philippa Mead


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