Duane Hanson’s Forceful Realism Enthralls Viewers at the Serpentine

Duane Hanson’s lifelike and life-size sculptures come alive in his first survey show in the UK since 1997 on show at Serpentine Sackler Gallery.

In forties and fifties America, Abstract Expressionism ruled. Pop art gave realism a way back in, but even in our own age there is a degree of embarrassment about realism in contemporary art.

The late American realist sculptor Duane Hanson stuck to his guns attempting to re-connect art with everyday life and put the spotlight on a large portion of society that are typically ignored.

During the sixties Hanson’s life-like figures caused widespread controversy shocking viewers with works like Trash (1967); in which a dead baby suffocated with a plastic bag lies within a dustbin amid an umbrella, beer cans and various other outcast items. The latter is the only work displayed from his early period, but is still as shocking as it was nearly half a century ago.

'Trash,' Duane Hanson, 1967
‘Trash,’ Duane Hanson, 1967

The rest of the exhibition includes works from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s; all of which appear to share a melancholic contemplation that intensifies the closer you get. By placing these hyperreal sculptures in a gallery context, Hanson forces us to take note of ordinary individuals so often overlooked.

Hanson is himself present in Self Portrait with Model (1979) in which he casts himself opposite an over-weight female companion who reads a diet magazine with her empty ice-cream Sunday in plain sight.

Duane Hanson, 1979
‘Self Portrait with Model’, Duane Hanson, 1979

This sense of humour that is often present in his work seems part of a larger commentary on the bleakness of our modern age. Although one could argue that some of these works pander to stereotypes, they still implore the viewer to question ones-self and the society we inhabit.

Ultimately Hanson’s creations elevate the everyday in to something extraordinary; leaving you both captivated and distressed.

Duane Hanson at Serpentine Sackler Gallery, 2015
‘Queenie II’, Duane Hanson, 1988
Duane Hanson at Serpentine Sackler Gallery, 2015
‘Flea Market Vendour’, Duane Hanson, 1990

– Harry Dougall

Duane Hanson is on view at Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 13 September, 2015; West Carriage Drive, London, W2 2AR; Open Tuesday-Sunday 10AM-6PM; Admission: FREE


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