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!
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!