Throughout his 40-year career, Duane Hanson (1925–1996) has made lifelike sculptures portraying working-class Americans.
The Serpentine presented the work of late American sculptor Hanson in his first survey show in London since 1997. Throughout his 40-year career, Hanson created lifelike sculptures portraying working-class Americans and overlooked members of society. Reminiscent of the Pop Art movement of the time, his sculptures transform the banalities and trivialities of everyday life into iconographic material. The exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery presented key works from the artist’s oeuvre.
Julia Peyton-Jones, Director, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director, Serpentine Galleries, said:
“Duane Hanson’s iconic sculptures of ordinary people will literally stop visitors in their tracks this summer. Beyond the stunning realism, the power of Hanson’s work lies in his unwavering focus on and sympathy for the human condition.”
Hanson’s early works comprised life-sized tableaux – depicting soldiers killed in action, police brutality and homeless people – that confront the viewer with devastating truths. Widespread criticism of his work Abortion in 1965 encouraged Hanson to formulate his social and political views as sculptures. In the following years, and in 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 depicting everyday people, with some satirical aspects, creating figures that could be conceived as representative of an entire labour force, class or even a nation. Beginning with Football Players in 1968, Hanson produced sculptures that represent typical Americans, concentrating on “those that do not stand out”, including Man with Hand Cart (1975), Housepainter (1984/1988) and Queenie II (1988), all of which were included in the Serpentine exhibition. The hyper-realistic nature of the sculptures results directly from Hanson’s artistic approach. Using polyester resin, he cast 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 and accessories.
Writer and filmmaker Maija Timonen presented a new performance, The Only Living Boy, in response to – and in the context of – Hanson’s exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Artist Megan Rooney also created an immersive, durational performance, Last Days. Last Days. Last Days, in the context of Hanson’s exhibition. Curators Rebecca Lewin and Melissa Blanchflower gave tours of the exhibition as part of the Saturday Talks programme.