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Duane Hanson: Real Life

September 16. 2006 - January 14, 2007


"I'm mostly interested in the human form as subject matter and means of expression for my sculpture. What can generate more interest, fascination, beauty, ugliness, joy, shock or contempt than a human being? Most of my time involves concentrating on the sculpting aspect. Casting, repairing, assembling, painting, correcting it until it pleases me. That takes some doing as I'm rarely satisfied."
--Duane Hanson, Nov. 26, 1981


The James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown is pleased to announce Duane Hanson: Real Life on view from September 16. 2006 through January 14, 2007.  Hanson used ordinary people as his main subject and became one of the most important American sculptors of the twentieth century.   A major exhibit of Hanson's work has not been presented in the Delaware Valley since the 1980's.

Hanson (1925-1996) became famous for his lifelike sculptures of common people that were cast from live models, then painted in great detail and finished with hair, clothing, and accessories.  Hanson's work is often mistakenly thought of as simply a form of extreme realism, but in fact it grew out of a highly developed social conscience. 

In 1977, Hanson began to take instant photographs as a sketching tool for his sculptures. The photographs are a window into the mind of the sculptor's obsessive journey into hyperrealism.  Close to 1000 photographs were found in his studio.  This is the first time Hanson's photos will be shown together with the sculptures. 

Real Life features 15 sculptures, 43 of Hanson's photographic studies and two landscape painting.  The exhibition is organized with the cooperation of the artist's wife Wesla Hanson, the work is borrowed from the family's personal collection, and includes such classic works as Queenie II (1988), Cheerleader 1988), Housepainter (1988), and Man on Mower (1995). 

Hanson was born in Alexandria, Minnesota, on January 17, 1925, in the agrarian culture of rural America. He recognized and admired ordinary people, such as laborers and the elderly, whom he believed had been marginalized by society.  He received his BA from Macalester College in 1946 and his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield hills, Michigan in 1951.

From 1953 to 1960, Hanson lived in Germany, working as an art teacher for the U.S. army school system. While in Germany he began to experiment with synthetic media, in particular polyester resin and fiberglass.   In 1960, Hanson moved back to America and settled in Atlanta, where he was an art professor at the University of Atlanta from 1962 to 1965.

In 1965, Hanson began teaching at Dade Community College in Miami, where he had an artistic breakthrough. He was in favor of legalizing abortion and created a sculpture entitled Abortion,which depicted a young pregnant girl on a table covered in a white linen sheet.  He submitted the piece in the annual Sculptors of Florida exhibition, which resulted in strong negative reactions by critics.  The controversy was so heated, that Hanson was banned from producing his sculptures in the studio at the college.  This rejection and negative reaction didn't hamper his politically driven work.

Hanson continued to create sculptures with a message that portrayed victims of social misery, suicide, poverty, rape, murder, racism and violence.    In 1967, he made his first casts from living models, which inspired him to create more realistic sculptures.  In the same year Hanson created works that reflected the turbulent social time including War, Gangland Victim and Motorcycle Accident.  Gangland Victim and Motorcycle Accident were exhibited at the Bicardi Museum in Miami, which caused civic protests. 

He began to focus more on individual people with a satirical approach, which can be observed in Race Riot and Football Players in 1968.  In 1969, Hanson moved to New York City and created more than 25 sculptures over the next four years.  His "sculptures of life" convey the emptiness, boredom, and loneliness of everyday life.  Hanson's work depicts the clichés of American lower and middle class-life. He transformed the reality of life into the realism of art.  We all come across Hanson's people every day life at the post office or gas station, or while walking in town. 

 "I'm not duplicating life, I'm making a statement about human values," Hanson said. "I show the empty-headedness, the fatigue, the aging, the frustration. These people can't keep up with the competition. They're left out, psychologically handicapped."

Hanson's family and friends were often models for his sculptures.  His children Maja and Duane helped out with Children Playing Game (1979), Child with Puzzle (1978), Cheerleader (1988) and Surfer (1987).  Museum Guard( 1975) has the head of Wesla Hanson's uncle.

In 1974, a retrospective of Hanson's work toured through Europe including Stuttgart, Berlin and Denmark.  The tour was a great success, and in 1976, his work went on a major tour of museums in America, which was also well received by the public.  A large one man show was held at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. in 1978 and at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in 1979.

In 1971, Hanson was diagnosed with cancer.  In 1995, he had a relapse, and died on January 6, 1996 at the age of 70.

In connection with the exhibition, the Museum will offer two programs including special lecture, Duane Hanson: A personal Portrait,by Maja Hanson-Currier, the daughter of Duane Hanson on Sunday, September 17 from 3 to 4 pm.  Hanson-Currier will present a talk and slide show of her personal experiences with her father's work. She will discuss the details, process and concept behind the work.

On Tuesday, September 19, from 1 to 2 pm and Tuesday, November 14 from 1 to 2 pm, there will be a gallery talk presented by Bruce Katsiff, Director /CEO of the Michener Art Museum and curator of this exhibit. Fee. Advance registration required via http://www.michenermuseum.org/ or 215-340-9800. 

 Duane Hanson: Real Lifeis sponsored by Herman, Ann and Binny Silverman with additional support from Penn's Grant Realty Corporation and Warren Weiss Insurance Agency, Inc.


(above: Duane Hanson, Self-Portrait with Model, 1979, polyvinyl, "Collection of the Estate of Duane Hanson" Art © Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)


(above: Duane Hanson, Security Guard, 1990, bondo, "Collection of the Estate of Duane Hanson" Art © Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)


Introductory Wall Panel for the Exhibition:

Duane Hanson: Real Life
Since the days of the ancient Greek sculptors of Athens and Sparta, western artists have often presented the human figure as an idealized form with a perfect physique, frozen for eternity in gestures of dignity and strength. When viewing classical sculpture, we mere mortals are awed by the flawless human frames standing before us in postures that are aloof and distant, not part of our everyday world. Our own meager bodies, with their blemishes, sagging flesh, and countless other imperfections, seem frail and disfigured when compared to the God-like creatures of power and grace that great artists created using noble materials such as marble or bronze.
Duane Hanson's sculptures violate this tradition. They present us with the "common man," sometimes overweight, always flawed, and busily doing the ordinary tasks that need to be done in every home and every neighborhood. Hanson's subjects are not gods-they're real people with real problems. We see them at the supermarket, the office, and the schoolyard. They have hopes and fears, dreams and depression. Hanson forces us to deal with the reality of the human condition, and his work confronts viewers with many questions. Why do we put gods and goddesses on the facades of our buildings instead of the cleaning lady? How should we react when the museum guard is transformed into the museum object? Is our worldview altered when we're more interested in the man on the mower and less interested in the lawn he has manicured?
Artists can expand our understanding of the world in many different ways. Sometimes they introduce us to exotic people and distant vistas; sometimes they offer a vision of a more beautiful and perfect universe. But sometimes artists open our eyes to the world as it is, simply by showing us things that we pass by every day but have never truly seen or understood. Duane Hanson's sculptures help us to see-to know and value the forgotten souls who toil quietly around us in a culture that offers little recognition of their work and their dignity.
Bruce Katsiff, Director and CEO
James A. Michener Art Museum


Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

Art/New York presents Hyper Realistic Sculpture (John De Andrea and Duane Hanson). Includes interviews concerning Duane Hanson's exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art and John De Andrea at OK Harris Gallery (SoHo) [5:02]

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index age for the Michener Art Museum in Resource Library.

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Duane Hanson: An Interview: 30 minutes 1977. "Super-Realist sculptor Duane Hanson talks about the development of his art. He explains his early beginnings, his education in the Midwest, his New York years, his worldwide success, and his work in Florida. In this 1977 interview, he also discusses the relationship of his art to America's materialistic suburban culture."
Duane Hanson in His Studio: 30 minutes 1977. "In this program, as 20th-century sculptor Duane Hanson works on a figure, he describes his methods and techniques of construction. He shows how he selects and poses the model, makes a plaster mold directly from the live model, casts the plaster body molds with a polyester-resin and fiberglass substance, and paints the completed cast. He also demonstrates how he positions the glass eyes, meticulously inserts strands of hair, chooses clot
Hyper-Realist Sculpture: Duane Hanson/John DeAndrea. This 28 mlnute 2001 Paul Tschinkel program looks at two artists who have helped define the hyper-realist style of sculpture. Duane Hanson works from casts to create figures that are startlingly convincing. His subjects are everyday people who reflect Hanson's interest In the "common denominators" of life. John DeAndrea's supremely accurate nude figures carry on a fascination with the human form that dates back to the ancient Greeks. A Hanson retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art and a DeAndrea exhibition at the OK Harris Gallery In Soho are featured. From the ART/new york series.

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