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Duane Hanson: Portraits

December 11, 2004 - March 6, 2005


The Columbus Museum of Art will present Duane Hanson: Portraits from the Heartland, from December 11, 2004, through March 6, 2005. (right: Man with Camera, 1991, autobody filler, polychromed in oil, with mixed media and accessories. Collection of Mrs. Duane Hanson. © Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)

This fascinating exhibition showcases 22 of Hanson's famous sculptures of the human form, which are so realistic they are often mistaken for real people. Using the mediums of vinyl, autobody filler, and bronze, Hanson fashioned his figures in natural poses, painted them realistically, and adorned them with real clothes. Included are subjects that are slices of everyday life, including a woman sunbathing in a chaise lounge, a man operating a riding lawn mower, and a woman selling wares at a flea market. Organized by the Plains Art Museum, Fargo, North Dakota, the exhibition offers a fresh perspective on Hanson and his amazingly life-like work by investigating how the artist's Midwestern upbringing influenced his creative vision.

"Duane Hanson's sculptures are tremendously popular for many good reasons," said Columbus Museum of Art Curator of American Art Mark Cole. "It's virtually impossible not to marvel at his skill for recreating human figures down to the very last detail. Also appealing is the artist's profound sense of empathy toward his subjects, and the way he calls attention to the wonder of everyday life."

Hanson was born in Alexandria, Minnesota, and raised in the nearby farming community of Parkers Prairie. Though his mature career was centered in Florida, he never strayed far from his Midwestern roots. The agrarian environment of his upbringing, in which families depended on the land and livestock for sustenance, shaped Hanson's character by instilling in him the value of hard work and the importance of community. He recognized both the physical and financial difficulties of those who made a living from physical labor. This background is essential to understanding and interpreting Hanson's sculptures today.

Hanson was a social realist who looked at a broad range of individuals and made observations about their daily existence. He recognized and admired working-class people whom he believed were under-appreciated, and he sought through his art to make the general public aware of their presence and contributions to society. Hanson's figures often seem introspective or contemplative, which also provides the viewer sufficient psychological space to observe these human surrogates in detail. Their clothing and accessories connote a profession or role in society with which audiences can easily connect. By placing his images in gallery or museum settings -- spaces traditionally reserved for "fine art" -- Hanson celebrated these heroes and heroines of everyday life.

Concurrent with this exhibition, the Columbus Museum of Art will also present Duane Hanson Photographs, 1979-1995, a selection of snapshots that Hanson created to be used as source material for his sculptures. Hanson often photographed live models in various poses, and he used the resultant images to determine the appropriate pose for the sculpture he would create.

Hanson's photographs provide a great deal of insight into his working methods. Most of the models who appear in Hanson's snapshots were the artist's family members and friends. His son, for instance, was photographed for Children Playing Game, and an art teacher at a local college modeled for The Flea Market Lady. On average, Hanson took approximately a dozenphotographs for each of his compositions. In some cases the number climbed considerably: for Cowboy, he shot more than ninety images. (right: Self-Portrait with Model, 1979, polyvinyl and bondo, with mixed media and accessories. Collection of Mrs. Duane Hanson. © Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)

Hanson preferred to pose his photographic models instead of having them act spontaneously. When he tried photographing people caught unaware, he paradoxically found the resulting images unconvincing and unnatural. Ultimately, Hanson was drawn toward the static poses of rested or stopped figures captured in moments of calm introspection.


Related Program:

Duane Hanson's Social Realism
Thursday, January 20, 7 pm
Duane Hanson's life-size, extraordinarily realistic sculptures of ordinary Americans have made him one of America's most popular artists. Erika Doss, aprofessor of Art History at University of Colorado in Boulder, speaks about Hanson's Midwestern roots, his interests in storytelling, and his development of a social realist style.


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Copyright 2003, 2004 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.