Thomas Demand

Zeichensaal (Drafting Room)


Photograph, colour, on paper
Image: 1833 x 2850 mm
Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1997


Zeichensaal (Drafting Room) is a large colour photograph by the German photographer Thomas Demand. The image features a well-lit room containing three rows of desks seen from the front, behind which is a wall with large piece of paper attached to it and an alcove containing a chair. Files, paper, tape, rulers and T-squares are scattered on the desks and along the left side of the image are two windows that stand slightly open. Grey and white tones dominate the picture, interrupted only by the light blue of the sheet of paper at the back of the room and by the occasional patch of red or brown from the objects on the desks. The room appears very still and is devoid of people, although the arrangement of the tools and paper suggests that they have recently been used.

Demand constructed the model for this work and photographed it 1996. The image was subsequently printed at the Labor Grieger print studio in Düsseldorf, Germany, by Demand and Dagmar Mietke. It is a laminated chromogenic photograph that has been mounted between two pieces of Perspex using a process known as Diasec – a method that lends itself to a larger format image and prevents the photograph from fading over time. This photograph owed by Tate is number two in an edition of five plus one artist’s proof.

Although they appear at first to present real places, Demand’s photographs are in fact pictures of scenes that are constructed by Demand using card and paper. The art writer Michaela Parkin has explained how Demand typically sets up and photographs his paper models:

Rather than using his camera to document a completed model from a particular viewpoint, Demand first sets up the camera in a fixed position and then builds the model in front of it, constantly checking through the lens as he works. This allows him to adjust the details and perspective of the actual model to meet his compositional needs, a process directly inverse to the digital manipulation that is now common practice in much photography.
(Michaela Parkin, Art Now: Thomas Demand, online exhibition guide, Tate Britain, London 1999,, accessed 25 August 2015.)

Demand’s photographs often resemble public or municipal spaces in their anonymity and functionality. However, the sources for his models have historical associations: for example, the room featured in Zeichensaal (Drafting Room) is based on the drawing studio of the German architect Robert Vorhölzer (1884–1954) who was responsible for the rebuilding of the German city of Munich after the Second World War. Demand found a photograph of the office as it had looked in the 1940s and this inspired him to make this work. Another example is the tavern scene in Demand’s 2006 series of five photographs entitled Tavern (Tate P79234), which presents the site in a German village on which a young boy was kept hostage and subsequently murdered in 2001.

Demand’s photographs could be seen to investigate the traces that these locations and media images of them leave in the collective memory. In 2000 the curator François Quintin observed:

Looking at Demand’s photos is like looking at the physical representation of memory and its spatial dimensions … But what are memories and dreams made of? In Demand’s world – paper. They are light and thin and they can be destroyed by a simple noise, a wind blow.
(Bonami, Durand and Quintin 2006, p.19.)

Zeichensaal (Drafting Room) also carries personal associations for Demand, who has stated that when he found the picture of Vorhölzer’s office he immediately connected with it: ‘my grandfather was in charge of architecture for the city of Munich. My grandmother even told me that they knew each other, he and Vorhölzer … Now there was suddenly a web of connections around this image, thanks to which my personal environment linked up with public history’ (quoted in Bonami, Durand and Quintin 2006, p.62). This photograph is also one of numerous works by Demand that either directly or more subtly deal with the impact of Nazism on Germany, another example being Room 1994 (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York), which represents the bunker that was bombed in 1944 as part of the last failed attempt to end German leader Adolf Hitler’s life.

Further reading
Francesco Bonami, Régis Durand and François Quintin, Thomas Demand, exhibition catalogue, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris 2000, reproduced p.35.
Roxana Marcoci, Thomas Demand, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2005, reproduced pp.54–5.
Beatriz Colomina, Thomas Demand, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 2006, reproduced p.75.

Louise Hughes
August 2015

Supported by Christie’s.