Houston only U.S. location for Thomas Demand photography retrospective

Thomas Demand has spent three decades exploring the intersections of history, photography, and memory. His large-scale photographic works investigate the way images embed themselves in a society’s collective memory. From June 30 through September 15, 2024, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will present Thomas Demand: The Stutter of History, a landmark retrospective of the artist’s work, with more than 70 images; the MFAH is the only U.S. venue for this internationally touring exhibition. 

In much of his work, Demand depicts places loaded with historical meaning – the  abandoned control room of the Fukushima plant following the March 2011 nuclear disaster; the site of the Florida recount of the 2000 American presidential election; or Bill Gates’s dorm room at Harvard. While his images appear at first to depict the real world, upon closer inspection they seem at once familiar and decidedly strange. They are in fact photographs of impermanent sculptural recreations.

Demand selects his source imagery from the media, recreates those often-banal images as life-size models using colored paper and cardboard, photographs them, and prints them at a monumental scale. Ultimately, his  works are as much about the circulation of images and the politics of memory as they are about the specific moments depicted. 

“The exhibition Thomas Demand: Stutter of History marks the first time in nearly 20 years that Demand’s work has been shown in the U.S. in such depth,” Gary Tinterow, Director and Margaret Alkek Williams Chair at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, said. “I am delighted that the Museum has been given the singular opportunity to show the extraordinary and challenging photographs that result from Demand’s unsettling explorations of how photography both reveals and deceives, prompting visitors to question  their perceptions and fundamental truths.” 

Demand initially took up photography in order to document the ephemeral paper reconstructions of everyday objects that he was making as part of his sculpture practice at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in the early 1990s. He soon began making these constructions for the sole purpose of photographing them, establishing the basis of his artistic practice.

After Demand photographs his models, he destroys them, leaving behind only their ghostly photographic doubles. The “stutter of history” evoked by the exhibition’s title lies in that strange gap between the world we inhabit and the recreated world of paper and cardboard that the artist conjures in his studio.

“The uncanny nature of Thomas Demand’s work lies in its ability to trick our perception  and our assumptions,” commented Malcolm Daniel, the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator  of Photography at the MFAH. “We are lured in because we think we have seen this before, only to discover that what we are looking at is just a stage set. And that moment of  recognition in turn leads us to think about the veracity of the images we receive endlessly,  every day.”  

Thomas Demand: The Stutter of History presents a career-wide survey of four important areas of Demand’s work: large scale photographs of unidentified yet historically significant  scenarios; smaller-scale “Dailies,” recreating everyday epiphanies recorded with his iPhone; “Model Studies” that document the paper maquettes created by architects and dress patterns cut by fashion designers; and mesmerizing stop by YouTube footage of a  cruise ship’s interior as fixtures motion films including Pacific Sun,  inspired by YouTube footage of a  cruise ship’s interior as fixtures and furniture are tossed by rough seas. In addition, the installation includes site-specific photographic wallpapers at key points in the exhibition.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue.  

About Thomas Demand 

Thomas Demand (born in Munich, 1964) studied sculpture at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he initially studied with sculptor Fritz Schwegler, who encouraged him to explore the expressive possibilities of models, and later at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Demand has had one-person exhibitions at museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, Fundacíon Botín in Santander, Spain, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humblæk, DK (2003), Serpentine Gallery, London,  UK (2006) and most recently at the Jeu de Paume (2023) in Paris.

In 2004 he represented Germany at the São Paulo Biennial.

Demand lives and works in Berlin and Los Angeles. 

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