DUANE HANSON’S WORKING CLASS AMERICA
By Naomi Barling
Duane Hanson’s eerily realistic sculptures of working-class Americans are the focus of a new exhibition at London’s Serpentine Galleries. From 2 Jun 2015 to 13 Sep 2015 the sculptures that were once dismissed as stereotypes are now being celebrated for their unsetting realism. His relatable characters like the overweight pensioners, disillusioned workers and a man begging for a job will be the late American sculptors first survey show in London since 1997.
Duane Hanson was born in Alexandria, Minnesota in 1925, and died in Boca Raton, Florida in 1996. After attending Luther College and the University of Washington, he graduated from Macalaster College in 1946. Following a period teaching high school art, he received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills in 1951.
Throughout his forty-year career, Hanson has created lifelike sculptures portraying working-class Americans and often overlooked members of society. Evocative of the Pop Art movement of the time, his sculptures transform the predictabilities and trivialities of everyday life into iconographic material.
Hanson’s early work was made up of life-sized scenes of soldiers being killed in action, police brutality and homeless people. They confront the viewer with devastating truths that are around us but people turn a blind eye too.
Widespread criticism of his work Abortion in 1965 encouraged Hanson to communicate his social and political views as sculptures. In the years that followed Hanson focused on the zeitgeist and the spirit of protest movements of the time, he created sculptures that dealt with social misery and violence. From the late 1960s his work shifted to representing everyday people, with some satirical aspects, creating figures that could be conceived as representative of an entire labour force, class or even a nation.
The hyper-realistic nature of the sculptures are a result of the artistic approach. Using polyester resin, he casts figures from live models in his studio, paying attention to every detail, from body hair to veins and bruises. The sculptures were assembled, adapted and finished meticulously, with the artist hand-picking clothes, accessories and props.
London’s Serpentine Galleries will present these sculptures from 2 Jun 2015 to 13 Sep 2015 and we are sure their realism will be stopping people in their tracks this summer. The exhibition will be held in th Sackler Gallery and will present key works from the artist’s collection. Beyond the stunning realism, the power of Hanson’s work lies in his firm focus on, and sympathy for the human condition.