Critics’ Picks

Duane Hanson, Man on Mower, 1995, bronze, polychromed in oil with lawn mower, 64 x 38 x 26".


Duane Hanson

Serpentine Galleries
Kensington Gardens
June 2–September 13, 2015

Duane Hanson’s sculptural renditions of working-class Americans have been placed throughout the white colonnade of this gallery in a presentation that spatially emphasizes this artist's signature hyperrealism. Early sculptures such as Children Playing Game, 1979, which includes two young towheads playing Connect Four on a soft blue carpet, are set beside more recent works, such as Baby in Stroller, 1995. At the entrance a corpulent woman with pinky-white skin (qualities shared by many of Hanson’s figures) sits an aluminum lawn chair; around her are stacks of books and framed paintings that look like they once hung in a church basement (Flea Market Lady, 1990–94).

If Hanson’s characters seem alive, it is not only because of the obvious—each is cast from an actual person—but because the artist’s manic attention to fidelity conceptually loads the figures with issues surrounding class, labor, and community, especially those specific to blue collar America. See Queenie II, 1988, a janitor dressed in a blue shirt with a plastic name tag, She places one hand on a trash can over which a janitor’s yellow tool belt hangs. Her expression is aloof if not forlorn, evoking the monotony of pushing a trash cart down ultraviolet-lit halls. And across the space, Man on Mower, 1995, is a morbidly obese man with pallid skin. He slouches in the seat of lawn mower with a desolate look. Hanson, like so many working in social commentary, may operate in typecasts, but at the core of his stereotypes are crucial and pervasive truths. His is a project that reaches back to nineteenth-century realists such as Honoré Daumier and Jean François-Millet, artists crucial in formulating the political and cultural discussions of their time.