Scrupulously ordinary

By Richard Clayton

There’s something not quite right about Thomas Demand’s imagery. At first glance, his photographs of bathrooms, offices and potted plants seem scrupulously ordinary. Like many contemporary artists, drawn to various kinds of architectural enquiry, he’s fascinated by the more unremarkable corners of everyday life.  

But, unlike, say, Wolfgang Tillmans, a fellow German, he doesn’t try to squeeze suggestion out of these banal scenarios. In fact, he deliberately denudes them of meaning, erasing any trace of humanity’s scratches and smears. His photographs look desensitised. Then it dawns on you: nothing can be this perfect, this inert. All the subjects displayed in this exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery are 3D models, sculpted from cardboard and paper. Like a TV set designer, Demand deals in reconstructions. And if they resemble cleaned-up crime scenes, that’s because they often are.

The places that he recreates are usually based on newspaper cuttings: Saddam Hussein’s kitchen, Jeffrey Dahmer’s corridor and, in Klause/Tavern (his latest work), the bar where a young boy was kidnapped and murdered. Stripped of their histories, his fabrications rehearse the now familiar argument that, at some level, the camera always lies. But these uncannily empty spaces give our speculations plenty of room.

Thomas Demand runs until 20 August at the Serpentine Gallery, London W2. Tel: 020 7402 6075

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