Thomas Cyrill Demand (born 1964) is a German sculptor and photographer. He currently lives and works in Berlin and Los Angeles, and teaches at the University of Fine Arts, Hamburg.
Demand had his first solo exhibition at Tanit Galerie in Munich in 1992. In 2004 the Kunsthaus Bregenz mounted the first comprehensive presentation of Demand’s major works from 1994 until 2004. Demand’s work later was the subject of mid-career retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2005 and at the Neue Nationalgalerie in 2009. Other solo exhibitions include Serpentine Gallery (2006), London, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, the Fondazione Prada, Venice (both 2007), and the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris (2001).
Demand is known for making photographs of three-dimensional models that look like real images of rooms and other spaces, often sites loaded with social and political meanings. He thus describes himself not as a photographer, but as a conceptual artist for whom photography is an intrinsic part of his creative process. Having studied sculpture under Fritz Schwegler at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf alongside Katharina Fritsch and Thomas Schütte, Demand began his career as a sculptor. In 1993, he began to use photography to record his elaborate, life-sized paper-and-cardboard constructions of actually or formerly existing environments and interior spaces, and soon started to create constructions for the sole purpose of photographing them. The photograph he takes of this model with a large-format-camera is the final stage of his work, and it is only this image, most often executed in an edition of six, that is exhibited unframed behind Plexiglas, not the models. On the contrary, Demand destroys his “life-size environments” after he has photographed them. One notable exception is his large scale model for Grotto (2006), inspired by a postcard of a Mallorcan grotto Demand has never visited, which was later exhibited. The life sized models are highly detailed, yet they retain subtle but deliberate flaws and anachronisms, such as an unnaturally uniform texture; according to art critic Michael Kimmelman, “the reconstructions were meant to be close to, but never perfectly, realistic so that the gap between truth and fiction would always subtly show”.
In The Dailies (2012), Demand for the first time experimented with the long-outmoded process of dye transfer, which involves fixing dyes with gelatine to ordinary paper. The practice was chosen by the artist for the saturated, but not garish colours, the spatial depth, the intense darkness, the durability and the extent to which the three primary colours can be modified, unlike ordinary prints.
While the works’ titles – Studio (1997), Zimmer (Room) (1996), Treppenhaus (Staircase) (1995) – are studiously devoid of superfluous information, the subjects represented in Demand’s photographs often relate to pre-existing press images showing scenes of cultural or political relevance. The New York hotel room in which L. Ron Hubbard worked on Dianetics, for example, was the starting point for Zimmer (Room) (1996). Zeichensaal (Drafting Room) (1996) is inspired by a photograph of the studio of Richard Vorhölzer, the architect who was in charge of much urban planning for postwar Germany; Scheune (Barn) (1997) is based on a Hans Namuth photograph of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner in Pollock’s East Hampton studio.; Studio (1997) derives from a photograph of the 1970s television set for the German “What’s My Line?”. Later in his career Demand turned his interest towards the political world: Podium (2000) represents the location where Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević gave his Gazimestan speech on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the Serbian defeat by the Turks; in Attempt (2005), Demand has reconstructed the studio of an artist whom Baader-Meinhof terrorists targeted in the 1970s in order to blow up the Karlsruhe house of the state’s prosecutor next door; Kitchen (2004) is based on soldiers’ snapshots of the compound near Tikrit where Saddam Hussein was captured. Demand’s series Yellowcake (2007) portrays the Nigerian Embassy in Rome, the site of a burglary in January 2001 that was used to prove Hussein’s attempt to purchase uranium. More recently, the photograph Kontrollraum (Control Room) (2011), for instance, purports to show the interior of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant during its tsunami-induced meltdown.
Commissioned by The New York Times, Demand’s “Presidency” series depicting the Oval Office appeared on the cover and inside The New York Times Magazine, November 9, 2008 issue following the election of President Barack Obama. The five large prints, simply titled Presidency I-V, were created in the last weeks of the Bush presidency and later, with the support of Ronald Lauder and other donors, given to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in 2009. In 2011, Demand created Metzler-Saal (2011), his largest site-specific work to date. Commissioned by the Städel Museum, the photographic work appears as if the museum’s main hall is lined floor to ceiling with deep purple curtains. Demand was inspired by the drapery depicted in many of the Städel’s Old Master paintings.
A result of a residency at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles where he discovered the archive of architect John Lautner, Model Studies (2011) is the first time that Demand photographed architectural models that were not his own. The series comprises a total of 32 close-ups of cardboard, tar paper, and foam core panels, depicting the study models from many angles.
Because Demand is working from models, the absence of people in his photographs is “conspicuous and thematic”. The closest Demand has ever come to depicting people are the cut-out silhouettes of politicians and heads of state depicted in the picture frames arranged on Sir Edward Heath’s grand piano (Flügel/Grand Piano, 1993). Furthermore, every trace of language has completely vanished: the papers strewn across the work table and floor in Büro (Office) (1995) have no text on them; the labels next to the doorbells that are the subject of Hinterhaus (2005) are variously colored but bear no names.
Demand cites Gerhard Richter and Ed Ruscha as sources of inspiration.