Serpentine Gallery exhibition 2015
The Sackler Gallery has been overrun. But don't worry, this isn't an invasion of American tourists, just the latest survey of hyper-realistic American sculptor, Duane Hanson. Families and kids will absolutely love this Serpentine Sackler Gallery exhibition filled with life-size, uncannily realistic figures, which feel a little like Madame Tussaud's on acid. Hanson captures humanity in the act.
Take a stroll into the Serpentine Sackler, Hyde Park's contemporary art jewel, and you'll find a seated woman, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, with glistening white plimsols. Relaxing on a chair, she's surrounded by tattered second-hand art books and forgettable oil paintings, flicking vacantly through a tired magazine. Flea Market Lady (1990/94) is just one of the remarkable Duane Hanson's works on display, which are so real you feel like you could shake their hands or ask them for the time. And while critics were particularly unkind about Hanson's hyper-realistic style during his lifetime, the provocative artist was only encouraged by the controversy and strove to reach ever more giddy heights of realism.
Duane Hanson sculptures
Throughout his forty-year career, Hanson devoted himself to making figurative sculptures in different forms. Taking his cue from the prevailing pop and photo-realist movements in the sixties, Hanson’s first figural works depicted brutal and realistic social truths. Creating tableaux of eerily realistic figures, Hanson tackled thorny subjects like race riots, abortion and the Vietnam war. The down and out Homeless Person (1991), sitting on a crate and holding up a sign reading 'will work for food', is a curious up to date version of Hanson's 1960s work based on the extreme levels of poverty in New York. It's a powerful image that still packs a punch today. However, the most harrowing sculpture that families might want to steer kids away from in the Serpentine is Trash (1967), a steel bin filled with detritus and the haunting figure of a dead baby.
Duane Hanson family & domestic scenes
Into the seventies, Hanson moved from scathing social topics to the banal and everyday. In one gallery, a pair of children, modelled on Hanson's own family, quietly sit crossed-legged on the floor and play Connect Four, while Hanson himself sits opposite an older woman reading about how to lose weight and sipping a chocolate milkshake. One particularly dumpy older American couple take up residence on a bench at the back for the gallery, as if they have fallen vicim to gallery fatigue or just had a row.
Hanson is also the master of making the hidden labourer suddenly visible. As the artist once commented: “The subject matter that I like best deals with the familiar lower and middle class American types of today. To me, the resignation, emptiness and loneliness of their existence capture the true reality of life for these people.” Take a look at the House/Painter (1984/88) as he takes a break from painting the walls of the Serpentine gallery a lurid pink and the resigned woman Queenie II (1988) who pauses in the middle of cleaning. It's the American dream undone as these domestic figures sigh with dissatisfaction.
The Serpentine does what it does best in this show by selecting carefully and not flooding out the Sackler space with a huge Hanson retrospective. And unlike other hyper-realist sculptors like Ron Mueck, it's interesting to see that Hanson doesn't put his figures on any plinths - they are the same size as the viewer and placed directly into our plane of existence.
Duane Hanson technique
What makes Hanson’s sculptures so real is the painstaking level of detail he employed; he adorned his figures with blemishes, varicose veins, bruises and tiny body hairs, deviating as little as possible from reality. Earlier sculptures were made from the very modern material of resin fibreglass, while the 1990s works begin to stray into bronze, painted with oils to create the waxy feel of skin.
Don't miss this uncanny Duane Hanson exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries, which is sure to be a big hit with selfie stick fans and children. Tongue in cheek and delightfully surprising, this is one of our favourites for the summer season.
|Duane Hanson, Serpentine Sackler Gallery
|Serpentine Sackler Gallery, West Carriage Drive , Kensington Gardens, London , W2 2AR | MAP
|Lancaster Gate (underground)
02 Jun 15 – 13 Sep 15, Tuesday – Sunday 10am - 6pm
|Click here for more details