'Looking at any of Demand's photos is like looking at the physical representation of memory and its spatial dimensions. It is a metaphysical experience like looking at a De Chirico painting' (F. Bonami, 'Ghosts', in Thomas Demand, exh. cat., Paris, 2000, p. 19)
Thomas Demand's Collection shows rows of gold discs on a wall, the seeming trophies of a superstar whose career has bridged the age of vinyl and that of the compact disc; the picture, two metres wide, plunges the viewer into this cultural treasure trove. However, in this image, closer inspection reveals that nothing is quite as it seems... The lustre of some of the discs is lacking, the details are not printed, there is something uncanny, something missing. This realisation cuts to the heart of Demand's incredible working process: his photographs record not 'real' rooms and scenes, but instead ersatz environments which he himself has painstakingly constructed, usually with card and paper, and then documented before destroying them irrevocably. In this way, Collection becomes the record of the brief existence of Demand's creation which, like a movie set, has been subsequently dismantled.
Demand's artistic practice throws the entire nature of art and representation under the spotlight. First of all, he disrupts the supposed documentary objectivity of photography. In addition, he throws questions of so-called reality, authenticity and authorship into question. Often showing rooms and scenes from history yet removing the anchor of context, he implies the presence of an intangible narrative, often one that is incongruous in relation to the image shown. While some of Demand's subjects in fact reveal themselves, upon further analysis, to have sinister subject matter, this is not the case in Collection, which is based on the collection of gold discs of the singer and early Pop icon, Engelbert Humperdinck.
As well as referring to a specific cultural figure, these framed records allow Demand to probe the entire nature of display, which he himself has disrupted with the feint of his artistic impersonation of Humperdinck's collection. The way that these discs are shown recalls a gallery space, or indeed a private picture collection, and so it is only too appropriate that Demand was inspired in part by the Castello di Rivoli in Turin, where he had an exhibition in 2002-03 in which another example of Collection featured prominently. 'During his visit to the Castello, in the months that preceded the show, the artist became interested in its long history,' curator Marcella Beccaria explained. 'In particular, he was interested in the presence, in the 17th century, of an art collection, specifically the picture gallery... The typology of Collection refers to the compositional scheme of a visit to the private collection' (M. Beccaria, Thomas Demand, exh. cat., Turin, 2002, p. 30).
Collection thus reveals itself as a response to the entire process of exhibiting, of placing oneself on display as Demand has done in his shows and as we all do in the way that we negotiate and engineer our own habitats and personas. It appears as no coincidence that this picture is based on the collection of the American singer Engelbert Humperdinck, who himself appropriated the name of an older German composer rather than his more prosaic birth name. Collection is an investigation of self-presentation, which lies at the heart of art. However, with his characteristic sleight-of-hand, Demand has managed to present himself in a way that remains inscrutable: he has used these processes of removal and editing, which are enacted every day, in order to throw themselves into relief. WP