In a visual culture inundated with imagery and obsessed with digital record-keeping, ephemera hold uncanny meaning and beauty. House of Card, Thomas Demand’s new exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Toronto, showcases the artist’s signature large-scale photographs of three-dimensional paper and cardboard models of scenes, rooms, and spaces lodged in the public memory. After photographing the models, Demand destroys them, leaving the image as their only record. At first, the images don’t register; they’re nonspecific, banal even. But a closer look reveals the social and political meanings of these re-creations, as Demand calls them. Refuge (2021), for example, is a series of photographs of a model based on the room Edward Snowden hid out in for a month in Russia.
The exhibition is an updated version of one presented by the Museum Leuven in Belgium in 2020, featuring several of Demand’s re-creations and tracing his exploration into architecture, model-making, and collaborative processes. House of Card includes work by other influential artists, architects, and designers, creating a dialogue between them and Demand. Among these works are a site-specific commission by Scottish artist Martin Boyce and a functional karaoke bar by Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. Demand’s first architectural project, The Triple Folly, designed in collaboration with Caruso St John Architects and located at the Danish headquarters of the textile brand Kvadrat, is included in model form along with a selection from Demand’s Model Studies, photographs of other designers’ modelling practices.
Demand’s work explores the gap between distortion and reality. In House of Card, the wall of one room appears to be draped in blue fabric that’s been unfolded, with visible creases and imperfections. But in fact, it’s an image of one of Demand’s wallpapers blown up to lend the appearance of texture. Perhaps Demand’s acts of visual trickery are an implicit commentary on the way images and information circulate on social media. Instagram images have a sheen of unstudied perfection; misinformation has the air of truth. A deeper investigation reveals the flawed, imperfect reality that lies beneath the static surface.
House of Card opens on September 16 at MOCA.