Michener Art Museum Presents Duane Hanson: Real Life

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Michener Art Museum Presents Duane Hanson: Real Life
Duane Hanson, Self-Portrait with Model, 1979, polyvinyl, Private Collection.

DOYLESTOWN, PA.- The James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown is pleased to announce Duane Hanson: Real Life on view from September 16. 2006 through January 14, 2007. Hanson used ordinary people as his main subject and became one of the most important American sculptors of the twentieth century. A major exhibit of Hanson’s work has not been presented in the Delaware Valley since the 1980’s.

Duane Hanson: Real Life is sponsored by Herman, Ann and Binny Silverman with additional support from Penn’s Grant Realty Corporation and Warren Weiss Insurance Agency, Inc.

Hanson (1925-1996) became famous for his lifelike sculptures of common people that were cast from live models, then painted in great detail and finished with hair, clothing, and accessories. Hanson’s work is often mistakenly thought of as simply a form of extreme realism, but in fact it grew out of a highly developed social conscience.

In 1977, Hanson began to take instant photographs as a sketching tool for his sculptures. The photographs are a window into the mind of the sculptor’s obsessive journey into hyperrealism. Close to 1000 photographs were found in his studio. This is the first time Hanson’s photos will be shown together with the sculptures.

Real Life features 15 sculptures, 43 of Hanson’s photographic studies and two landscape painting. The exhibition is organized with the cooperation of the artist’s wife Wesla Hanson, the work is borrowed from the family’s personal collection, and includes such classic works as Queenie II (1988),Cheerleader (1988), Housepainter (1988), and Man on Mower (1995).

Hanson was born in Alexandria, Minnesota, on January 17, 1925, in the agrarian culture of rural America. He recognized and admired ordinary people, such as laborers and the elderly, whom he believed had been marginalized by society. He received his BA from Macalester College in 1946 and his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield hills, Michigan in 1951.

From 1953 to 1960, Hanson lived in Germany, working as an art teacher for the U.S. army school system. While in Germany he began to experiment with synthetic media, in particular polyester resin and fiberglass. In 1960, Hanson moved back to America and settled in Atlanta, where he was an art professor at the University of Atlanta from 1962 to 1965.

In 1965, Hanson began teaching at Dade Community College in Miami, where he had an artistic breakthrough. He was in favor of legalizing abortion and created a sculpture entitled Abortion, which depicted a young pregnant girl on a table covered in a white linen sheet. He submitted the piece in the annual Sculptors of Florida exhibition, which resulted in strong negative reactions by critics. The controversy was so heated, that Hanson was banned from producing his sculptures in the studio at the college. This rejection and negative reaction didn’t hamper his politically driven work.

Hanson continued to create sculptures with a message that portrayed victims of social misery, suicide, poverty, rape, murder, racism and violence. In 1967, he made his first casts from living models, which inspired him to create more realistic sculptures. In the same year Hanson created works that reflected the turbulent social time including War, Gangland Victim and Motorcycle Accident. Gangland Victim and Motorcycle Accident were exhibited at the Bicardi Museum in Miami, which caused civic protests.

He began to focus more on individual people with a satirical approach, which can be observed in Race Riot and Football Players in 1968. In 1969, Hanson moved to New York City and created more than 25 sculptures over the next four years. His “sculptures of life” convey the emptiness, boredom, and loneliness of everyday life. Hanson’s work depicts the clichés of American lower and middle class-life. He transformed the reality of life into the realism of art. We all come across Hanson’s people every day life at the post office or gas station, or while walking in town.

“I’m not duplicating life, I’m making a statement about human values,” Hanson said. “I show the empty-headedness, the fatigue, the aging, the frustration. These people can’t keep up with the competition. They’re left out, psychologically handicapped.”

Hanson’s family and friends were often models for his sculptures. His children Maja and Duane helped out with Children Playing Game (1979), Child with Puzzle (1978), Cheerleader (1988) and Surfer (1987). Museum Guard (1975) has the head of Wesla Hanson’s uncle.

In 1974, a retrospective of Hanson’s work toured through Europe including Stuttgart, Berlin and Denmark. The tour was a great success, and in 1976, his work went on a major tour of museums in America, which was also well received by the public. A large one man show was held at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. in 1978 and at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in1979.

In 1971, Hanson was diagnosed with cancer. In 1995, he had a relapse, and died on January 6, 1996 at the age of 70.

"I'm mostly interested in the human form as subject matter and means of _expression for my sculpture. What can generate more interest, fascination, beauty, ugliness, joy, shock or contempt than a human being? Most of my time involves concentrating on the sculpting aspect. Casting, repairing, assembling, painting, correcting it until it pleases me. That takes some doing as I'm rarely satisfied."
--Duane Hanson, Nov. 26, 1981

In connection with the exhibition, the Museum will offer two programs including special lecture, Duane Hanson: A personal Portrait, by Maja Hanson-Currier, the daughter of Duane Hanson on Sunday, September 17 from 3 to 4 pm. Hanson-Currier will present a talk and slide show of her personal experiences with her father's work. She will discuss the details, process and concept behind the work.

On Tuesday, September 19, from 1 to 2 pm and Tuesday, November 14 from 1 to 2 pm, there will be a gallery talk presented by Bruce Katsiff, Director /CEO of the Michener Art Museum and curator of this exhibit.

The fee for both programs is $8 for members and $15 for non-members, which includes general admission and special exhibition fee. Advance registration required via http://www.michenermuseum.org/ or 215-340-9800.

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