Portraits and Duane Hanson

Lately I’ve got portraits on the brain. Holbein, Manet, Sander, Evans, the list is endless of the amazing images artists have made of a sitter. In some ways I think contemporary portraits tap into things narcissistic and as viewers we see ourselves when peering into the portraits of others, (yes very Lacanian). In others perhaps we’re simply so curious about ourselves trapped in image and how much a photograph (or painting) might hold of who we really are. (Maybe simply the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet…)
I do however keep going back to a question someone asked me last fall. It was one of those questions that comes up unexpectedly and you find yourself responding almost instantly. Often I’ll second guess this response but in this case the question, ‘if you were to show with any artist who would it be?’ seemed one that I was bound to fail in answering. My abrupt answer however was Duane Hanson. And Duane’s work is where my head goes when thinking of interesting solutions to the making of portraits.
I had read about Duane’s lifelike/lifesize/facsimile sculpture of tourists, workers, shoppers and working class people, and I thought I knew what I was in for. But on a visit to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art some years ago I first encountered one of Duanes works and the short moment when I realised that the figure in front of me was not ‘real’ it literally caused my knees to buckle.

What I like about Duane’s figures is the idea that fidelity can challenge our perceptions. His sculptures act in many ways like 3 dimensional photographs, even with a kindred subject matter, (though without the frame, point of view and lens distortion). The hyperreal figures stop time and allow viewers to study the moment, but moreso challenge our own experience of staring into this thing that highly resembles ourselves.


  1. Posted June 2, 2007 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I saw Duane Hanson’s show at the Whitney many years ago and one thing I remembered was that figures weren’t placed in an “artwork” line-up. They were spread out as if participating with you in the spaces.

  2. J
    Posted June 2, 2007 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Every time I see this work I forget that it isn’t real. Then suddenly, remembering why I felt strange when I was looking at it, I must drop everything and get back to confront the image (feeling the humble fool.)

    In fact, I did just that a few seconds ago with this post. Thanks for that reminder.

  3. Patrick McInerney
    Posted June 2, 2007 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    His “Tourists” are standing there still to this day. I was at the Scottish Modern Art Museum not long ago. I thought they were appropriately displayed next to Ed Ruscha’s “Lonely Planet” painting.

  4. Posted June 6, 2007 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Brian! Guess what?!?! I showed with Duane Hanson!

    I was in a show, “This Is America”, at the Centraal Museum in the Netherlands and my slide show was projected in a room with Hanson’s “Derelict Woman.” Seriously, my mind was blown when I got the photos back from the show and IT WAS JUST MY SLIDE SHOW AND A DUANE HANSON SCULPTURE IN A ROOM! HOLY FUCK!

    I was so glad to read that you’re into him…I’m a huge fan.



  5. Posted June 6, 2007 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    holy shit am I jealous…

    What a great pairing!

  6. Posted June 6, 2007 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    My grandmother (a sculptor as well) was actually good friends with Duane Hanson. I don’t remember it, but I believe I met the man when I was younger. I do remember seeing his work later, and being simply amazed. he was an incredible artist with a unique vision.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted June 12, 2007 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    these are intense!

    reminds me of ron mueck

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