Thomas Demand Exhibition

Thomas Demand Exhibition in Florence, Italy by Caruso St. John Architects

Last week's dose featured a modern exhibition in a modern setting. The large-scale, blurred photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto, and artist-designed exhibition, complement the gallery spaces in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago by German architect Josef Paul Kleihues, a severe, neo-Modern assemblage of boxes. This week's dose looks at another photographer's work exhibited in a classical setting, the Thomas Demand Exhibition at the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy. A collaboration between the artist and London's Caruso St. John Architects, the exhibition is an investigation in contrast and integration, attempting to fit the works of the popular German artist into an ornate setting.

Thomas Demand's photographs appear to represent reality in their visions of modern interiors, but in fact each image is a full-size cardboard model of an interior based on another, factual photograph, most likely from a newspaper or similar media sources. This technique blurs the distinction between the real and the fabricated - his attention to detail furthers this blurring - while questioning the legitimacy of photography as the medium of truth. Similar in vein to Gregory Crewdson and Ben Gest, each artist stages their subjects in particular ways that create a surrealism, each image familiar yet unsettling in its slight detachment from reality. These artists are adding a complexity to photography that is enriching while using different media in ways that is purely artistic.

Inserting Thomas Demand's photographs into the spaces of the Pitti Palace was not a simple task for the artist and the architects. First, they were not allowed to touch the interiors for the exhibition, meaning the work could not be mounted on the walls or any other surfaces. Second, the clean and minimal images of the artist's work can not compete on their own with the highly ornate interiors of the rooms designed for the King of Italy's parties. Their solution was to mount the images on panels that sit on large pieces of furniture placed near the edges of each room. In effect, the dark-toned panels increase the size of the artwork, creating a large "frame" around the image that acts as a buffer between the photograph and the pilasters, moulding, paintings and other decoration of the Palace.

Seeing the contrast between the dark, hard-edged creations for the exhibition display and the soft, light interiors is reminiscent of the last act of "2001: A Space Odyssey" in which the astronaut Dave finds himself in an ornate bedroom suite with the black alien monolith. From a purely visual perspective the contrast between object and setting in the film is surreal. A similar effect was achieved at this exhibition in Florence, appropriate given the artist's surrealist tendencies.