The late Duane Hanson is getting his first retrospective in London in nearly twenty years. In their new home at the Serpentine Gallery, his hyperrealistic sculptures represent forty years’ worth of work for the artist, who died in 1996.
Hanson’s sculptures are life-size installations depicting the overlooked but ubiquitous segments of American society: the homeless beggar, the sidewalk saleswoman, the house painter. They’re a far cry from his earliest work, more politically charged pieces like Abortion (1965), which garnered some heavy criticism for the artist. Abortion was a 64cm long sculpture of a pregnant woman’s body on a table, covered with a white sheet. Starting in 1967, Hanson made his figures out of a polyester resin cast from live models, then meticulously painted them to display the minute details and imperfections of human skin before finishing them with real clothing and accessories.
“My art is not about fooling people,” Hanson once said. “It’s the human attitudes I’m after—fatigue, a bit of frustration, rejection. To me, there is a kind of beauty in all this.”
Hanson’s sculptures narrowly escape the Uncanny Valley, but are disquieting in their quietude. The personages are so familiar that they are nearly blank, yet they are frozen in moments so banal that they seem poised to spring to life. There is a certain tenderness too in the artist’s portrayal of the human condition.
The Duane Hanson retrospective is on view at Serpentine Galleries until September 13th. Check it out if you’re in London!