Leuven

Thomas Demand, chaffinch, 2020, ink-jet print, 67 3⁄4 × 53 1⁄8". From the series “Model Studies IV,” 2020.

Thomas Demand, chaffinch, 2020, ink-jet print, 67 3⁄4 × 53 1⁄8". From the series “Model Studies IV,” 2020.

Thomas Demand

Museum Leuven

Even for those already familiar with Thomas Demand and his photographic restagings of preexisting images via elaborate ephemeral paper models, the retrospective “House of Card,” curated by Valerie Verhack, offered fresh insights. As Demand observes in a video interview playing at the beginning of the show, the model is an underexposed and undertheorized aspect of contemporary society. And while the artist is known for building his models on a one-to-one scale, in this show he dabbled in different ratios. By doing so, Demand sought to explore the relationship between model and perspective; the disparate points of view in each work disclosed a unique insight into his subjects’ formal, conceptual, and political significance.

The “Embassy” series of 2007 stood in its own separate room near the entrance; this was the first body of work for which Demand built an installation (in collaboration with architect Arno Brandlhuber) for its display. The photographs portray paper and cardboard models based on the interior of the Embassy of the Republic of Niger in Rome, from which documents subsequently used by the George W. Bush administration as justification for the invasion or Iraq were allegedly stolen. Since press photos of the supposed crime scene didn’t exist, Demand visited the embassy himself, basing his model on his own observations. Essential to this series are the different angles from which Demand photographed this reconstructed crime scene. The installation, in turn, reinforced this point with a design combining the actual floor plan of the embassy with the positions from which Demand captured the building’s interior, thereby creating a kind of stage set on which the viewer is an actor. The scenography of this mise en abyme attempts to direct the audience’s focus and is helped along in its task by Demand’s fluent play with the photographic languages of architecture and photojournalism. The artist wants to show us that by standing within or viewing a modeled re-creation of such a subject, as well as knowing the perspective from which it is presented, we establish its meaning.

Another compelling contribution to this show was the series “Model Studies I–IV,” 2011–20. Here, Demand worked not with his own models, but with those of others. And rather than capturing his subjects full-scale, he zoomed in, foregrounding the models’ material aspects in close-up. The series began with the group “Model Studies I,” 2011, which derives from the artist’s research at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles into the maquettes created by California architect John Lautner. The most recent entry is the previously unexhibited group “Model Studies IV,” 2020, comprising closely cropped shots of the cut-out paper patterns of late Tunisian-born couturier Azzedine Alaïa. In both bodies of work, small markings, penciled measurements, and diverse materials fit together like puzzle pieces, revealing an intimate sense of scale, but also the intimacy of creation and the model’s role in it. In all four groups of “Model Studies” the images are tightly cropped around the maquette’s paper and cardboard bits. In this way, Demand disassociates these components from their primary function, pointing to a new possible significance for the model.

Similar themes undergird Kvadrat Pavilions, 2020, a second previously unexhibited project. Here, Demand has broken new ground, truly entering the realm of architecture. On display in its own room was a maquette of his design for a building currently being constructed outside of Aarhus, Denmark, in collaboration with London-based architecture firm Caruso St John. The model shows the building to be relatively small, surrounded by a vast natural landscape. Is its magnitude meant to impress or inspire? Here, we see the sculptor/photographer in the process of becoming an architect, though the framing of his creation and its meaning will be left to others.