At first glance, Thomas Demand’s photographs appear to be straightforward images of unremarkable architectural spaces. Upon closer inspection, however, the works become strange. For instance, in Staircase there are no people, and the texture of each material (such as concrete or metal) seems odd. In fact, Demand built a life-size model of a staircase out of colored cardboard, based on a childhood memory of his school; he then photographed it using lighting and camera angles that almost fool us into believing we are looking at the real thing. Historically, artists turned to architecture—and especially elements like staircases that recede in space—to reinforce the illusion of depth and make their two-dimensional works appear more “real.” With this in mind, Demand’s puzzling photograph can be understood as a kind of joke about the limits of drawing, painting, and photography, which can never fully recreate the experience of moving around in real space.
Label from Window to Wall: Art from Architecture, November 18, 2017–March 18, 2018