Duane Hanson says howdy!

sackler_cowboy entrance

To enter the exhibition of sculptures by the American artist, Duane Hanson (1925–1996), currently at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, is to enter a world in which the ordinary has been transformed into the extraordinary. Eschewing the world of typical icons, of the rich and the famous, Hanson preferred to capture the beauty of what is familiar, the beauty of those who surround us everyday, on buses, on trains, in the streets, and among the populations that visit museums and galleries. For although these lifelike sculptures portray working-class Americans, by extension they portray everyone of us. Beauty is truth, truth beauty!

This highly political, democratic art is intended to draw attention to the abiding dignity and the nobility of everyman and everywoman, the common people “who don’t stand out”, the voters, the humble citizens, those who engage in unskilled or manual or blue-collar occupations, a house painter, a man who cleans the streets with a broom and hand cart, an elderly couple who in their days of retirement sit on benches in parks or wait for buses, people engaged in ordinary life. There is an installation of children sitting on the floor playing board games with their mother; another of workmen on site in their hard hats.

As one critic has pointed out: “Duane Hanson invites people to see things as if for the very first time, things that they have ignored or simply have not seen because they lead such blinkered lives.” Art adds vision, which is conscious being. Art is enrichment of the human soul, art moves individuals spiritually and emotionally, and all art is an act of solidarity, we’re all in this together!

And if you’re thinking “sounds a bit like Madame Tussaud’s,” forget it, no comparison! The hyper-realistic nature of Hanson’s sculptures results directly from his scrupulous artistic approach. Using polyester resin, he would 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. So breathtaking you can almost hear them breathe!

duane_couple

The directors of the Sackler Gallery have said in their publicity material: “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.

Believe me, they ain’t kidding! ¡Adiós, amigos!

Andy Warhol and a can of worms

can_regimentWhen Andy Warhol produced what is probably his most famous painting, known as Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1962, many people were dismissive. This is not art, they said, this is copying, and he didn’t even paint, he just screen-printed the design. Where’s the skill? No, definitely not art!

But of course it was art and every bit as serious as the work of any other great artist, a Titian, for example, who in his mind sought to envisage the Nativity scene with Mary and Joseph and their newborn child, and to transfer that image onto canvas. Art is observation expressed through a medium, which might be words, or paint or musical notes, or mime, or whatever. In other words, art is consciousness transferred, so all art is, initially at least, conceptual. There can be good and bad art, serious or light art, but art is everywhere, everywhere that human consciousness exists.

But come on, you might say, where’s the art in reproducing an identical image of a can of soup? There are many possible responses to that. But the one that strikes me as the most plausible is that Warhol, in a humorous way, wanted to draw our attention to the fact that although nowadays we live in a highly designed world, our preoccupations differ very little from the preoccupations of our artist ancestors, those who decorated the walls of their cave in Altamira with images of the food they hunted for survival: an iconic deer or buffalo enclosed in its skin over the course of the millennia has become today’s ox-tail soup enclosed in a can. Technology does not destroy human appetites it merely alters the delivery of the product to be consumed. The modern mass production of images is made possible through technologies that can turn out millions of identical portraits of Marilyn Monroe or Marlon Brando, or of you and me. It was playing around with these ideas that I came up with the primitive design for what I call the Warhol Soup Can. Is it art? Course not. Just me having a bit of fun!