Friday, September 6, 2013

Duane Hanson

Have you ever seen a Duane Hanson sculpture?   The boyfriend and I recently went on a private tour of The Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation (a MUST-SEE if you are a contemporary art fan and you are in or near the Los Angeles area), and we were lucky enough to see two Duane Hanson sculptures there (Florida Shopper and Old Man Dozing, both pictured below)

Hanson's life-sized figures are typically featured in relaxed, sedentary poses, often times in self-absorbed activities such as reading, daydreaming or performing mundane tasks. Startlingly life-like and meticulously crafted, details such as hairs, veins, blemishes, etc. are all carefully constructed.

At first glance, Hanson's sculptures might illicit laughter from a casual viewer, as the subjects are recognizable and relatable.  But looking beyond the impressive technical details, Hanson's subjects often appear melancholy, revealing boredom, isolation, emptiness and despair. 

Duane Hanson, Lady with Cleaning Cart, 1980

Duane Hanson, Janitor, 1973

Duane Hanson, Mailman, 1982

Duane Hanson, Tourists, 1970

Duane Hanson, Businessman, 1971


Duane Hanson, Housewife, 1970

Duane Hanson, Florida Shopper, 1973

Duane Hanson, Secretary, 1972


Duane Hanson, The Housepainter II, 1984


Duane Hanson, Man with Hand Truck, 1975

Duane Hanson, Museum Guard, 1976

Duane Hanson, The Jogger, 1983-84

Duane Hanson, Businessman Reading, 1983

Duane Hanson, Young Shopper, 1974

Duane Hanson, Reclining Man Drinking, 1972

Duane Hanson, Sunbather, 1971



Duane Hanson, Old Man Dozing, 1976

Duane Hanson

Obituary written by Marco Livingstone....

Duane Hanson, the American sculptor known for his uncanny replicas of people cast from life and dressed in real clothes, was in his early forties when he made his first pieces of this kind in 1967 under the inspiration of Pop Art and particularly of George Segal's direct-cast plaster figures. Only five years or so later, when his project of documenting contemporary society was barely under way, he became severely ill with cancer, a disease with which he continued to battle intermittently and to which he eventually succumbed shortly before his 71st birthday. 
Almost all the work by which he will be remembered was thus produced, in a sense, on borrowed time. These circumstances must help account for the sense of urgency with which Hanson's art embraces the here-and-now, but also for its profound meditation on life and its recognition of the inevitability of death.

Hanson's first direct-cast figures brought him instant notoriety, not because of the astonishingly realistic technique - that would come later - but because of the bluntness with which he presented the violent facts of life in American society at a time of great ferment. His early subjects, including the bloodied victim of a road accident, a drug addict and an alcoholic, rioters, dead and dying soldiers, the dredged corpse of a gangland murder and a group of down-and-outs on the Bowery, were brutal and often grotesque.

By the early 1970s he had turned to less overtly disturbing sights, drawn in particular from ordinary suburban life, with a humorous or satirical edge only partly masking the tragic aura of an existence conditioned by boredom, aimlessness and lack of aspiration. The broad comedy of sculptures such as Tourists of 1970, the only work by Hanson in a British public collection (the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh), in which a physically mismatched and appallingly dressed couple look outwards in dazed bewilderment, still carries in its tow the bleak insights of the more directly political works that had preceded them. The people to whom he was consistently drawn, and whom he represented with such rare dignity and compassion, were all out of control, subject to the kinds of compulsions, such as shopping and over-eating, by which we try to anaesthetise ourselves against despair and the harsh realities of life.

The originality of Hanson's work was quickly recognised, and he received particular acclaim in Europe after his participation in the Documenta exhibition in 1972. In spite of this early success, he gradually fell out of favour with the art establishment, in part because of suspicion of his immense popular appeal but also as a result of his misleading alignment with the Photorealist movement, which lost critical favour within the space of just a few years. His status both in the marketplace and in the affections of the general public remained high, but he was woefully undervalued by the critics and was keenly aware of their neglect. Nevertheless his work has exercised an immense influence on young artists during the past decade, particularly in their use of direct casting of the human body: such notable artists as Robert Gober, Jeff Koons, Charles Ray and Kiki Smith all owe him an immense debt.

What most concerned Hanson, however, is that his work should speak clearly to his constituency: the ordinary people of his own society. The retrospective for which I served as guest curator with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in early 1994 attracted, almost entirely by word of mouth, an audience of more than 200,000. This success was repeated in Fort Worth and in 1995 in a seperate retrospective organized by me which toured Japan. Some may have come simply to marvel at his increasingly miraculous technique, but few will have left the exhibition without an enhanced understanding of what it means to be a human being.

This is only fitting in the case of such a remarkable man: kind and immensely compassionate, thoughtful and with an endearingly dry sense of humour; totally without pretension, yet enormously dedicated to his art.

Marco Livingstone



Trissta said...

Holy fucking cow. These are crazy amazing, but SO CREEPY! His technique is crazy realistic... I can just imagine what it'd be like to see these in person. I'd be creeped out like no other. I get creeped out in wax museums! And this is like 20 million times more amazing. Holywow.

Much Love,

Alisa said...

I have seen his work! My daughter and I took pictures next to Slab Man at the Stanford museum. So realistic.

Jen Vallette said...

Hmmmmm...Interesting. What do you think?

Lorena said...

They look so real...

Anonymous said...

I was so happy to see this. One of his sculptures has been on display at the Flint Institute of Arts for as long as I remember. I remember going as a child and jumping every time I saw it.

Jane Droll said...

Jen -- i LOVE them!!!!

Elle Sees said...

these freaked me out! many of them seem stuck in the 80s, clothes-wise. so interesting!

Krista Gassib said...

I like these and I don't~ all at once but still I'm drawn to them. Have you ever seen any of Gregory Crewdson's work? These are all characters from it. You should check out Beneath the Roses.

Cheryl Ann said...

wow. those are creepy and realistic as hell... i like the lady with the shopping bags - "Surprise Surprise!"