Currently on view at London’s Serpentine Gallery is a retrospective of Duane Hanson, the late American sculpture whose hyperrealistic sculptures of individuals pulled from daily life still manage to create a potent sense of awe are on view. The show, his first survey in the British capital since 1997, strikes a chord against the backdrop of today’s high-tech art production methods and complex conceptual depictions.
Following his early sculpting career, during which he concentrated on grotesque and overt depictions of political subjects, The Minnesota native shifted to his now signature style in the late 1960’s, focusing on everyday members of the society in their most quotidian forms. Until the 90s, Hanson focused on these astonishingly realistic and detailed life size sculptures, using real life models in his studio, carefully casting them with polyester resin. Proving Hanson’s sharp eye and awareness for social formats parallel to his impressive eye for detail, these sculptures smoothly integrate themselves into their surrounding environments, serving as agents of various social and cultural codes that are largely unique to the American middle class.
Easily overlooked icons of the mundane revive themselves throughout the show, presented in eerily familiar poses and performing their most emblematic rituals, while reflecting a turbulent psychological spectrum. Queenie II, for example, an African-American woman working as a janitor, or Homeless Person, a soliciting man holding a sign that reads ‘will work for food’, perplex the viewer with their quick relation to everyday sights, yet their presence in a museum setting provoke and agitate the viewer’s contextual awareness.
Another of the artist’s classic works, Flea Market Lady, presents a middle aged woman, possibly from Midwest, sitting on a bench during her garage sale, while nearby, Cowboy, the preeminent American icon lazily leaning onto the wall, challenge the viewer’s set notions of embedded archetypes in contemporary society, while urging a placement for these characters within certain narratives. Construction workers on their lunch break, children calmly playing Connect Four on a rug or an elderly man resting his leg on his hand cart, reflect the particular attention Hanson paid to costumes and props as silent narrators of many untold tales and signifiers of different eras the artist created with these sculptures.
Duane Hanson’s work is on view at Serpentine Gallery through September 13, 2015.
— O.C. Yerebakan