Alexis Day Erickson

Stepping into Thomas Demand’s new exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York
City, one is immediately confronted with associations to high school hallways and gym changing rooms. Stacked from floor to ceiling, reaching inaccessible heights, images of identical grey lockers paper the walls senselessly. The initial impression of encountering the absurd quickly shifts to a contemplation of repetition, monotony, and conformity. The expectation that one has for the material of the lockers is overturned by what actually is. The crisp glint and sheen of metal is missing, and no individual marks, numbers, or scratches exist. This is not a photograph of a locker, you remember. This is something else. Artist Demand plays with perception and preconceived assumptions by constructing objects, speaces, and scenarioes of cardboard and paper cut outs with incredible attention to detail. These are then photographed, creating environments that appear to be mundane and recognizable, but upon closer investigation reveal themselves as fragile reproductions of reality.

This exhibition includes films and photographs of varying sizes. The smaller pictures, called “Dailies,” depict paper replications of images captured on Demand’s cellphone. Quiet and varied, they demonstrate moments of inspiration and intrigue that not only triggered Demand to snap a photo, but additionally enticed him to dedicate hours later replicating. Amidst these images hang two vertically-oriented screens, each playing looped stop-action videos created from his cardboard and paper constructions. In one, utilizing an elaborate and complex paper set, a camera captures a bundle of brightly colored strings, tied and weighted together. The strings and their balloon orb shadows float back and forth across a red brick ground while shadows of leaves and party decorations shift behind them. It is slightly too bright and structured for reality, creating an experience reminiscent of computer animation. The artist’s juxtaposition of menial subject with extreme care and consideration creates an unexpected, graceful, and hypnotic film.

Werkstatt / Workshop
C-print mounted on Diasec
70 7/8 x 122 inches; 180 x 310 cm

In the back-room, Demand displays three photographs. With the largest almost 10 feet long, these images are imposing, beckoning viewers to approach and experience them. Although subject matter varies, they cohere through their precision, manipulation of perception, scale, and medium. “Workshop 2017,” shows a small window-lit room. Tools of a violin maker’s trade lie about while dozens of violins at varying degrees of finish hang from the ceiling like fruits on a vine. Here there is a playful mirroring between the subject and Demand’s process of making. He is crafting art by recreating the craftsperson’s creation space.

The near photorealistic rendering of Demand’s artworks produces an uncanny
experience as one struggles to decipher and understand what they are seeing. As viewers question the artist’s motives and methods, we consider the truth of the photograph, reliability of sight, and construction of reality. These artworks increase in intrigue and perceived value with the understanding of time, labor, and skill that making each piece entailed. A constructed sense of illusion trickles through each image, connecting the works together and successfully forming a cohesive exhibition. This show illustrates Demand’s ability, interests, and breadth as an artist, facilitating complex interactions and interpretations by those lucky enough to see it.