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Thomas Demand at the Irish Museum of Modern Art

An exhibition of work by one of Germany’s most innovative contemporary artists, Thomas Demand, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 28 February 2007. L’Esprit d’Escalier presents an overview of Demand’s recent work and comprises 19 large-scale photographic pieces, plus a new screening device, designed by Caruso St. John Architects, London, specially for this exhibition at IMMA to show the work Rolltreppe (Escalator), 2000. Ranging from 1995 to date, the exhibition presents such familiar works as Archiv (Archive), 1995. Others have never been shown before – including Landing, 2006, Demand’s photographic response to a mishap in January 2006 at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge when a visitor fell down a staircase, crashing into three 18th-century oriental vases, among the most important artifacts at the museum, smashing them into hundreds of pieces. Another new work being shown for the first time is Shed, 2006. 

The intriguing title of the exhibition, L’Esprit d’Escalier, derives from the French phrase which literally means ‘wit of the staircase’ and refers to the regret one feels after missing an opportunity to deliver a witty comeback or parting shot.

Demand is best known for his unique approach to photography – the subjects of his large-format photographs are painstakingly constructed three-dimensional, life-size models of architecture and objects, devoid of human presence. Once they have been photographed, the models are destroyed. Demand also makes 35 mm films, setting his cinematic still images in motion.

Demand began as a sculptor and took up photography to record his ephemeral paper sculptures. From 1993 he began making constructions for the sole purpose of photographing them. Beginning with a pre-existing image culled from the media, usually of a political or historical event, he translates this image into a life-size model made of coloured paper and cardboard. In Treppenhaus (Staircase),1995, Demand  brings to his work his own experience of post-war Germany, a country filled with Third Reich–era buildings, for which the period in which Demand grew up held the promise of reconstruction. He has recreated the Bauhaus-style stairway of his secondary school, built in the 1950s, alluding to the utopian idea in post-war Germany that architecture could create a better future.

Combining craftsmanship and conceptualism in equal parts, Demand highlights the unreliability of photography in a world saturated with images. His photographed scenes initially look real, but on closer inspection reveal a lack of detail that conveys a certain tension between the institutional blankness of each photograph and the loaded cultural background that informs them. Lichtung (Clearing), 2003, re-creates the Giardini, a public garden in Venice. Made of 270,000 individually cut ‘leaves’ of green paper, the photograph is cinematic in its panoramic scale and dramatic use of light.

Demand also depicts contemporary events, for example in Poll, 2001. Here, he works on scenes from the 2000 American presidential election and the media coverage of the results of the voting in Florida, using electronic photos issued by the news agency Reuters. Poll reveals rows of desks topped by Demand’s numberless telephones, uniform memo pads, and blank paper ballots carefully sorted into piles.

Thomas Demand was born in Munich in 1964 and lives in Berlin. He represented Germany at the Bienal de São Paulo in 2004 and his work was the subject of a mid-career survey at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2005. He has exhibited widely and recent solo shows include the Serpentine Gallery, London, 2006, and the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 2006.

The exhibition is curated by Rachael Thomas, Senior Curator: Head of Exhibitions, IMMA.

The exhibition is accompanied by a full-colour publication, produced in association with Walther König Books, and includes a new text by Dave Eggers Fictional Episodes from the Life of Thomas Demand amongst a number of newly commissioned texts by Ulrich Baer, Professor of German and Comparative Literature, New York University; Paul Oliver, author and professor; Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, curator, critic and Professor of Modern Irish at University College Dublin, and Rachael Thomas as well as a previously published text from Girl with Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace, and an afterword by Enrique Juncosa, Director, IMMA.

Gallery Talk
Alex Farquharson, renowned freelance curator and writer, will respond to the work of Thomas Demand in a gallery talk on Saturday 3 March at 3.00pm.  Admission is free, but booking is essential. To book please telephone the automatic booking line on Tel: +353 1 612 9948 or email: [email protected]

L’Esprit d’Escalier continues until 3 June 2007. Admission is free.

The exhibition is supported by the Goethe-Institut, Dublin.

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am – 5.30pm
except Wednesday 10.30am – 5.30pm
Sundays and Bank Holidays 12 noon – 5.30pm
Mondays, 6 April Closed

For further information and images please contact Monica Cullinane or Patrice Molloy at Tel: +353 1 612 9900; Email: [email protected]

7 February 2007 

Important Notice


We would like to advise our visitors that our Main Reception area is closed for renovation from 22 April until mid-June.  A temporary reception is open on the ground floor next to the original main entrance. While we prepare to open our next exhibition Hilary Heron: A Retrospective on 24 May, there are two exhibitions to see Derry Film & Video Workshop and Self: Determination: Artists Commissions. IMMA’s gardens and café are open to the public.