Throughout his forty-year career, the late artist Duane Hanson made lifelike sculptures that portrayed working class Americans. For the first time since his UK retrospective in 1997, Serpentine Galleries in London is showcasing a new selection of some of the sculptor’s key pieces. Hanson is credited as a major contributor to the hyperrealism movement. His art went on to inspire contemporary artists like Ron Mueck (covered here) and can be found in major museums and collections, such as the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Hanson cast his works from actual people, including his own family members, in various materials like polyester resin, fiberglass, Bondo (body putty), and bronze. No detail of his subjects was overlooked from their flush cheeks, to body hair, cellulite and bruises.
Although he created many of the pieces on view decades ago, his art continues to stun viewers for its uncanny reality and relevance of his subject matter. The realism of Hanson’s sculptures can be credited to his attention to detail, but their believability exists in his remarkable observations of people in fleeting moments. There are couples ignoring each other at the breakfast table, football players taking pause mid-game, to more politically and socially charged sculptures addressing issues such as war, race and women’s rights, as in “Abortion” (1966) and “Riot” (1967). These are the themes that set Hanson apart from the romanticized figures that you can find in any wax museum. Although we may dress a little differently these days, in the context of modern day problems, his retrospective begs the question if we have really changed all that much?
Works by Duane Hanson are now on view at Serpentine Galleries in London through September 13th, 2015.