Thomas Demand, one of the most influential and original contemporary artists, presents a major new solo exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in September 2009. Comprising around 35 works, including a number of new pieces, Nationalgalerie (National gallery) is the largest and most important exhibition of Demand's work mounted in his native country so far.
Nationalgalerie is not a retrospective of Demand's career in any straightforward sense. Timed to coincide with the anniversaries of two pivotal historical events in German history, the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany 60 years ago and the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, it is an examination through the body of Demand's work of perhaps the most important subject of the artist's richly diverse practice: Germany.
The assembled photographs all engage with moments of significance in Germany's recent past, depicting unnerving sites of upheaval and transformative change meticulously reconstructed in fragile, disposable materials such as paper and cardboard. The images do not merely bear witness to key episodes in the unfolding of contemporary German history, however. Alongside the instantly recognizable scenes, the exhibition includes works that depict the private dramas of German life, equally necessary to an evocation of a particular time and place. Each image replicates a site half-remembered in the public's collective consciousness as it was delivered in the media-saturated climate of the late twentieth century. Whether depicting the eerie yet banal site of a notorious child murder or the garish quiet of the empty set of a television quiz show, the near familiarity blended with estrangement in the photographs prompts intriguing questions about the extent to which social identity and memory is condensed and contained in just a few iconic images.
The great glass hall of the Neue Nationalgalerie, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, is a particularly appropriate context for Demand's meditations on contemporary Germany. The building not only is an incunabulum of postwar architecture but is equally historically significant as a symbol of the way the Federal Republic of Germany viewed itself at its former inner-city border. The exhibition design by London-based architecture firm Caruso St John creates an ideal connection between Demand's works and the light-filled hall of the museum, appropriately enough one of the most aesthetically powerful buildings in the German capital.
The exhibition is made possible by the Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie and sponsored by E.ON. The project received additional generous support from Kvadrat, Denmark. A detailed book, published by steidlMACK, London, accompanies the exhibition in German and English editions.