Thomas Demand at Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto

Thomas Demand refers to the work he’s most known for, photographs of life-size paper models depicting familiar media images—such as the control center of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant or the bathtub where German politician Uwe Barschel died—as Hauptwege, or main roads. But he’s also explored numerous Nebenwege, or side alleys. Through these forays he’s stretched his formal and conceptual engagement with the model, dissolving borders between different media, reality and fiction, the ephemeral and the permanent. Demand’s exhibition here, “House of Card”—created with artists Martin Boyce and Rirkrit Tiravanija, and the London- and Zurich-based architecture firm Caruso St John—puts forth various modes of collaboration, artmaking, and curation.

Three sets of large Diasec photographic prints from Demand’s “Model Studies” series, 2011–20, depart from his usual approach: Rather than documenting his own paper facsimiles, the artist presses his camera lens deep into the textures, folds, and colors of others’ constructions—building prototypes by architect John Lautner and the Japanese firm SANAA, and garment patterns by couturier Azzedine Alaïa—to create vivid formalist compositions. These abstract works bring Demand back to his early days as a painter. Elsewhere, photographs of abstract compositions made from fragments of white paper and cardboard models from SANAA hang on azure wallpaper—a substrate that is actually an enlarged photographic composite of a sheet of paper—patterned with delicate creases and shadows.

Also on view are Demand’s sculptures and research materials for his first architectural project, The Triple Folly, 2022, designed for the Kvadrat textile company’s headquarters in Denmark. Collaborating with Caruso St John, Demand references the centrality of paper in the pavilion. Each of its three joined structures resemble a paper product: a folded piece of paper, a plate, and a soda jerk’s hat.

Installations by Boyce and Tiravanija contribute to the exhibition’s dizzying reverberation of the real and its representation. Made during separate residencies in Japan, Demand’s large photograph of his scale model of a karaoke bar threatened with demolition and Tiravanija’s functioning reproduction of the same place develop a playful conversation. Indeed, “House of Card” is a hall of mirrors.

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