Chicago

Thomas Demand, Marina Fine Arts #37, 2011, pigment print, 42 x 63". © Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/ARS, New York.

Thomas Demand, Marina Fine Arts #37, 2011, pigment print, 42 x 63". © Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/ARS, New York.

Thomas Demand

Graham Foundation

Thomas Demand, Marina Fine Arts #37, 2011, pigment print, 42 x 63". © Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/ARS, New York.

Thomas Demand first encountered John Lautner’s fragile, rarely seen cardboard maquettes in 2010 as a visiting scholar at the Getty Research Institute. His subsequent photographs of the California architect’s models, printed in the book Model Studies (2011) and shown throughout 2012 at the Thirteenth International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, Nottingham Contemporary in the UK, and Esther Schipper in Berlin, testify to what an artistic—or specifically photographic—research method can reveal. Besides the series’ titles, which, for the most part, name the clients of Lautner’s houses—Beyer, Franklyn, Goldstein, Segel, Turner, and so on—Demand’s pigment prints (all 2011) provide few clues as to the identity of the iconic structures that the models anticipate. Instead of portraying recognizable aspects of Lautner’s Brutalist, space-age buildings, many of which are famed for their appearances in Hollywood films, Demand focuses on sculptural and formal aspects of the models themselves: how the arcing cardboard edges conduct light (Concannon #36, Marina Fine Arts #37) and how rectangular planes assert themselves throughout the structures (Goldstein #08, Segel #25). In some cases, he shifts the perspective so that the floor becomes a wall or a ceiling, as in Goldstein #90. In Turner #31, a shallow depth of field illuminates details such as Lautner’s synthetic snow, meant to simulate wintry Aspen, Colorado. Demand treats the maquettes not as expendable tools but as objects of visual and historical fascination in their own right.

At the Graham Foundation, the Lautner series appeared as “Model Studies: Thomas Demand with Fernand Léger, Francis Bruguière, Thomas Scheibitz, and the VKhUTEMAS School.” Given six rooms to work with, Demand opted to curate a group of photographs and drawings related to international prewar abstraction. The earliest works were notebook sketches made by Léger during his service in World War I, along with the book Die Chaplinaide, 1920, a collaboration with Yvan Goll, displayed as multiple copies turned to different pages. Here, Léger is seen responding to the trauma of war with abstract figuration, and soon afterward depicting Charlie Chaplin via mechanomorphic imagery that would be used in the film Ballet mécanique (1924). Die Chaplinaide was displayed in custom vitrines designed by contemporary German artist Thomas Scheibitz, as were sixty rarely seen images of architectonic models of space made by students in the 1920s at Moscow’s VKhUTEMAS, the birthplace of Constructivism. These anonymously authored objects were made with their future as still images in mind (documenting them was part of the assignment). Also included was a series of photographs by Bruguière, a San Francisco–born artist, who shot his own abstract sculptures in shimmering, theatrical light and shadow between 1925 and 1930. Recalling Demand’s previous curatorial experiments such as “La Carte d’après Nature” at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco in 2010–11, the artist’s show-within-a-show here revealed affinities with his own work in terms of both content and method: in the negotiation between two and three dimensions, in the isolation and abstraction of detail, and in the poetic or utopian sense of the model—that plan or design for something to-be-made.

Demand’s best-known work is by now formulaic: photographs of life-size cardboard renderings of politically charged sites, including the sacked Stasi Central Office in 1990, a Florida recount station in 2000, the kitchen in the compound where Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003, and many others. While these tableaux are frequently characterized as both ruminations on photographic believability and generalized representations of moments with a definite outcome, Demand’s turning his lens onto someone else’s maquettes in “Model Studies” reminds us that an expanded notion of model has always been central to his oeuvre. Like Léger’s tentative rearranging of the human form, VKhUTEMAS and Bruguière’s faith in photography’s promise of unexpected insight, and Lautner’s architectural proposals, Demand’s work could in fact be said to light on historical junctures as such—points at which multiple futures were possible.

Daniel Quiles