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March 18, 2022

Acquisition: Thomas Demand, Vik Muniz, and Frank Thiel Included in Recent Gift from Heather Podesta

Thomas Demand, 'Junior Suite'

Thomas Demand
Junior Suite, 2012
chromogenic print
image: 139.7 x 114.94 cm (55 x 45 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of the Heather Podesta Collection

A prominent collector of contemporary art, Heather Podesta has made important contributions to the collection of the National Gallery of Art over the years. Her most recent donation of outstanding photographs by Thomas Demand (b. 1964), Vik Muniz (b. 1961), and Frank Thiel (b. 1966) significantly deepens the museum’s holdings of photographs by these prolific artists.

Demand’s provocative photograph Junior Suite (2012) comments on the irreverent nature of tabloid photography and immense public interest in celebrity tragedy. Responding to the media frenzy surrounding the death of Whitney Houston in 2012, Demand was shocked by the publication of one picture that depicted the room service table where Houston had been eating moments before she died. Demand recreated the scene using colored paper, then photographed the highly crafted fabrication before destroying it. Junior Suite disrupts the illusion of intimacy created by the tabloid image, often referred to as Houston’s “last supper,” and instead reveals the morbid invasion of privacy it signifies.

Muniz’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Ashes (1999) comments on Casper David Friedrich’s iconic 1818 painting of a man reflecting on a sublime wilderness. Muniz updates the 19th-century rendering, where a mysterious fog both obscures and reveals the landscape, to a contemporary one constructed entirely from ash and discarded cigarette butts. The conceptual difference between Friedrich’s highly recognizable romantic image and the detritus of Muniz’s Wanderer creates a fascinating dialogue about individual experience, health, and the environment.

Thiel has photographed the transformation of a reunified Berlin for over two decades. His large-scale color print Stadt 10/06A (Berlin) (2001) documents a city reborn after the tumultuous events of the 20th century and reveals an unfolding architectural history through the creation of new patterns of urban existence. Thiel is also interested in the overwhelming power of glacial configurations. His monumental photograph Perito Moreno #11 (2012–2013), depicting Patagonia’s Perito Moreno Glacier, is a haunting meditation on the strength and majesty, and fragility and endangerment, of the natural world.

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