Curated by Udo Kittelmann, Thomas Demand: Mundo de Papel is the largest exhibition ever held in Spain of one of the most outstanding artists of recent decades. Demand is known for his photos of hyperrealist life-size paper and cardboard scale models — artificially constructed spaces that seem real at first glance. After photographing these models, the artist destroys them, leaving only the photographic testimony of their fleeting existence.
Whitney Houston’s last meal. The control room at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The windowless room where whistle-blower Edward Snowden was hidden. Events with a big media impact that speak of abuse of power, natural disasters, the recent pandemic or the overlooked beauty of everyday life, which the artist recreates in Mundo de Papel, questioning what we understand as objective reality. His large-scale photographs are not directly related to one another, yet they all lack human activity or people and as a result seem to be empty stage sets in which reality has been suspended. They ultimately leave room for the visitor´s imagination to complete the narratives suggested by the artist.
Thomas Demand (Germany, 1964) originally trained as a sculptor at the Düsseldorf Art Academy (1989-1992). He began working with paper, a very simple, readily available material that is also inexpensive and easy to store. In the beginning, photography was simply a tool he used to document his ephemeral sculptural work. However, in the early-nineties, after his time at Goldsmiths College in London, he turned the tables of his practice and started to destroy his paper-and-cardboard models once he had photographed them. The resulting image has the appearance of reality but it is an artificially created representation, and it is precisely this relationship between reproduction and original that attracted the artist’s interest.
Some of his most significant works are inspired by events with a strong political charge or high media impact, like the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was stuck in quarantine in Yokohama port during the COVID pandemic and in which six people died; the secret vault where the art dealer Guy Wildenstein stored around thirty stolen artworks; the prototype for the wall which Donald Trump wanted to build between the USA and Mexico; or the video of the Pacific Sun Cruise liner violently rocked in a storm off the coast of New Zealand.
Other works on view in this exhibition refer to images of tragic events culled from the media, like the tavern where a five-year-old boy was allegedly murdered; or the backyard of the house of one of the brothers who carried out the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon.
Finally, the show also contains a series of works that capture the beauty of daily situations which, though generally overlooked, suggest intriguing stories. This is the case of the series The Dailies based on snapshots of ordinary objects taken by the artist on his smartphone, like a red bow glowing in the California sun or paper cups stuck in a chain-link fence.
For this exhibition at Centro Botín, Demand designed a series of structures simulating an urban landscape. They form eight hanging pavilions spread out in the gallery space, with each area covered in wallpaper, which he has also produced. Each pavilion is uniquely shaped and serves as a display for his photographs and video works, dating from 1996 to the most recent one from 2021.
The exhibition is accompanied by the most ambitious book project of the artist’s work to date. Overseen by Demand himself, the book is co-produced by Fundación Botín and the London-based publishers Mack Books and contains pop-ups representing the eight pavilions in the exhibition. Mundo de Papel invites you to see reality in a different way.
Curator: Udo Kittelmann, artistic director of the Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden and member of the Fundación Botín’s Visual Arts Advisory Committee.