by Travis Jeppesen on July 3, 2009
On a recent trip to Paris, I was lucky enough to catch an exhibition of Duane Hanson, whose work I’ve long admired in reproduction but seldom seen in actuality. The sculptures most people and I know best stem from the latter half of his career, when he took to creating lifelike reproductions of mostly white trash. People that most people consider to be white trash. I don’t use that term in a derogatory sense; these are the people you will likely be surrounded by your whole life in America, unless you come from a place like New York or Los Angeles or are incredibly wealthy and choose to live isolated among other incredibly wealthy people. I don’t know that I buy the argument that Hanson’s work comes out of social realism. That would imply that whatever social commentary you can wrench out of his work is more important than other factors, such as the mood evoked by the sculptures. That a profound melancholy haunts all of these sculptures dispels that notion. I would go so far as to say that Hanson is more of a melancholist than a social realist. At the same time, it is difficult to tell whether he has any real compassion for his subjects or not. He chose to live in south Florida for the vast majority of his life. I’m also from south Florida, and while I didn’t grow up there, I spent enough time there as a child and adolescent to recognize that it’s one of the trashiest regions of the United States. I think there are many ways you can interpret Hanson’s attitude towards his subjects – and the most popular of them are condescending. You can say he has great empathy for the subjects he depicts, which implies that he feels sorry for them, or you can say he depicts them in a very brutal manner, meaning he is making fun of them. This points to a problem of interpretation within the context of the art world, though – not within Hanson’s work.
Duane Hanson – “Illusions Perdues”
Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin
Through July 11th, 2009