Discussing Thomas Demand


General Photography

“Demand is a minor academic conceptualist whose use of specially constructed sets to examine memory and to question photographic truth was long ago wrung dry.” Thus cites Greg Allen Tyler Green, and I found it hard to disagree, especially in the light of the immediately following sentence: “Ultimately Demand’s Oval Offices look like a kind of illustration — the exact sort of intentionally temporal decoration a magazine would logically commission to illustrate a story.”

There’s one nice rhetorical left-right combination! And coincidentally, but that is just an aside, a nasty swipe at some of the photography featured in the NY Times Magazine (“intentionally temporal decoration” - that in itself would be worth a whole post, wouldn’t it? maybe some day…).

In any case, Greg disagrees with Tyler, and in the context of Demand’s NY Times commission photos being bought by the National Gallery of Art he writes: “If there’s a problem for me with Demand’s Oval Office photos, it’s the way their ‘ideal reflexivity’ seems so predictably perfect for the National Gallery. Washington is a city obsessed with itself and its own importance, and I can’t imagine how gigantic photos of the epicenter of power could be read here as anything other than adulatory.”

My own problem with Demand’s work has always been that they seem to rely too much on the fact that all that stuff was actually built by hand, and that beyond being very conceptual they offer me little - if anything - to come back to. Once you get what they intend to do that’s it. If they are supposed to be a “reassessment of the narratives of twentieth century history”, as MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci is quoted (by Greg) then I find them just a bit too obvious. I’m not even sure whether these photos really “reassess” narratives, I think they fall just short of an actual reassessment.