Model Studies is curated by and features a new body of work by artist Thomas Demand and selected works from Fernand Léger, Francis Bruguière, Thomas Scheibitz, and photos by architecture students at the Constructivist school VKhUTEMAS in Moscow. Together, the works in the exhibition dismantle a rigid, formal worldview and explore methods of representation other than realism. Seeking new ways to construct meaning, figuration and traditional forms of narrative give way to alternative approaches to making, seeing, and understanding the world. Central to this idea is the model, from its most literal to its most abstract manifestation.
Acclaimed German artist Thomas Demand is best known for his large-scale photographs that question the medium as a faithful record of reality. Up until now, Demand’s practice has largely focused on recreating scenes from images often circulated in media, making painstaking paper models of the architectural interiors and environments featured in the photos, photographing them, and then promptly destroying the models. “They have one peak of perfectness, of immaculate beauty, sometimes just for a day or two. If you don’t catch the shot on that day, it’s gone,” he says. The spaces depicted are often the scene of some cultural event, the identifying details of the spaces removed. Reflecting on the importance of empty environments in his work, Demand states, “architecture has always been the center of my attention, because it deals with utopias and ideas of a somehow better future.
Model Studies features a new body of work by Demand that marks a departure from his most well-known work. For the first time, Demand has photographed models that he did not make himself. During a residency at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, Demand worked with the archive of mid-century architect John Lautner (1911 – 1994). The twelve Lautner models photographed by Demand are not finished presentation models of final designs, rather they are working models—provisional, made of cheap materials, unresolved, and in disrepair. Demand’s large-scale photographs abstract the models beyond recognition. They are no longer buildings, but planes, color fields, and spatial relationships. “I tried to avoid making images of architecture,” Demand writes. “It’s the sculptural presence, and the traces of someone’s practice, of understanding and remodeling, which raised my attention.”
For the Graham Foundation, Demand has approached the exhibition as a site of experimental research. While the inclusion of bodies of work by Léger, Bruguière, and VKhUTEMAS students chosen by Demand to accompany his work reveal striking visual relationships, their juxtaposition summons reflection on how models work, not only as representative objects, but also as generators of ideas and form in their own right. Léger’s small abstract sketches of soldiers and environments made during his service in World War I hinge on the double function of models: The drawings operate both as a medium for aesthetic projection and an analytical mode of distancing himself from the realities of the front lines. Bruguière’s abstract light exposures of paper cutout constructions from the late 1920s, on the other hand, resonate with Demand’s photos of the Lautner models in their willing confusion of perceived space through a disorienting investigation of abstract forms, light, and shadow. Finally, the VKhUTEMAS (Higher Artistic and Technical Workshop) photographs depict a range of models made by students, primarily for a course on “space.” The models themselves are not of buildings, but rather solutions to spatial problems. Photographing the models was also an integral part of the learning process, underscoring a keen awareness of the impact of photography on the perception and distribution of architecture. Demand commissioned German artist Thomas Scheibetz to design custom vitrines (the only three dimensional objects in the exhibition), which house the VKhUTEMAS photos and copies of Yvan Goll’s 1920 screenplay Chapliniade containing illustrations by Léger.
Thomas Demand (b. 1964) makes work consisting of photographs, films, and related artist books based on sculptures created from paper and cardboard; the sculptures themselves are representations of source images culled largely from mainstream media. In addition to addressing photo-sculptural media-specific concerns, Demand’s work considers and engages the fields of design, architecture, music, politics, and contemporary culture in general. In cultivating a form of neutrality, exemplified in Demand’s titling and the non-presence of animate objects in his lexicon, he opens a space in which collective memory, both recent and receding, is activated. Demand has been the subject of one-person exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and he has represented Germany at the Venice Biennale and the Bienal de São Paulo. Demand lives and works in Berlin and Los Angeles.
Fernand Léger (1881–1955) was a French painter whose work spanned the entire first half of the 20th century. He exhibited at the Salons d’Automne et des Indépendants and took part in the La Section d’Or group. In 1914 Léger enlisted in the First World War, and was later discharged after being hospitalized. His work signaled a return to the figure and the development of decorative research in close liaison with architecture. Six drawings by Léger from 1916 during the First World War will be shown in Model Studies courtesy of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Additionally, four copies of the expressionist and surrealist poet Yvan Goll’s 1920 screenplay Chapliniade containing illustrations by Léger will be exhibited courtesy of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and Udo Kittelmann.
Francis Bruguière (1879–1945) was an American photographer. He ran studios in San Francisco and New York and photographed for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. In his noncommercial work Bruguière experimented with multiple exposure images. In 1928, while living in London, Bruguière started a new series of abstractions and produced the first British abstract film, Light Rhythm. Nineteen of Bruguière’s abstract, black and white photographs taken between 1925-1930 will be shown in Model Studies courtesy of the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY.
Thomas Scheibitz (b. 1968) is a German sculptor and painter living and working in Berlin. Together with Tino Sehgal, he represented Germany at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005. Solo shows include the Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1999), Berkeley Art Museum, San Francisco (2001), Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig (2001), the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2001), Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva (2004), IMMA Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2007), Camden Arts Centre, London (2008) and Musée d’ Art Moderne, Luxembourg (2008). Group shows include the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1999), the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (2003), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2004), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2005), Tate Modern, London (2007) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2009).
VKhUTEMAS, or Higher Artistic and Technical Workshop (1920–1930) was a Russian art and technical school founded in Moscow by government decree. The school became known for its association with Constructivism and its radical pedagogical approach that combined visual arts, architecture, and design. It is often thought of as the Russian equivalent to the Bauhaus. In its short ten-year lifetime, VKhUTEMAS included a notable group of faculty architects such as Moisei Ginzburg, Vladimir Krinskii, Nikolai Ladovskii, Ivan Leonidov, Konstantin Melnikov, Ivan Zholtovskii, Alexei Shchusev, and the Vesnin brothers. Sixty vintage geltain prints of architectural models taken by VKhUTEMAS students will be shown in Model Studies courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.
The Graham Foundation is grateful to the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; Centre Pompidou, Paris; George Eastman House, Rochester; Private Collection, Berlin; Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin; Esther Schipper, Berlin; Matthew Marks Gallery, New York; and Sprüth Magers Berlin London for their generous loan of works and collaboration, without which this exhibition would not be possible.
This will be the first presentation of Model Studies in the United States. Previous institutional presentations have been exhibited at Nottingham Contemporary, London (2012) and Common Ground, the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale (2012), which included an installation by Martin Boyce.