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Duane Hanson Sculpts the American Dream at Fundacion Canal in Spain
Man on a Mower (Edition 2/3) 1995 VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2008. Courtesy of the Institut fr Kulturaustausch, Germany.

MADRID.- The exhibit presents Duane Hanson’s (1925-1996) hyperrealist sculptures of perfectly ordinary people from the lower middle class in USA. Hanson used the human body as the basis for his both deeply humorous and critical commentary to the Western world’s social reality and consumer culture.

This is Hanson's first retrospective exhibit in Spain. The show has 22 works of art made by the artist.

Apparently from the start, Duane Hanson's primary interest was in recreating the human form. His first extant sculpture is a three-dimensional wood rendering of the figure in Thomas Gainsborough's famous portrait The Blue Boy (c. 1770). Remarkably, Hanson created his version of Blue Boy in 1938 when he was thirteen, while living with his family in Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, an isolated town of 700 inhabitants. According to the artist, there was only one small library in town, which had only one art history book, in which he discovered Gainsborough's portrait of a dashing young man wearing blue satin breeches. Hanson carved Blue Boy out of soft wood, possibly a log, using whatever implements were available, including his mother's butcher knife.

Hanson's early sculptural efforts also included carving his mother's old broomsticks into miniature representations of the human form (or portions thereof), both nude and clothed. Like Blue Boy, these miniatures are naturalistically rendered. Striking a variety of poses, they suggest that Hanson was exploring the different postures that the human body can assume.

In 1941, on a trip to Minneapolis, Hanson visited an art museum for the first time, where he joyfully discovered that actual works of art were on display. His first formal art training began two years later when he enrolled in college. One of the few sculptures that survives from Hanson's college years is a small soapstone likeness of a corpulent woman spanking a child. This sculpture—executed while Hanson was a student at Macalester College in St. Paul in the mid 1940s—is probably one of the earliest that he produced in a medium other than wood, and it is noticeably more stylized and abstract than Blue Boy and the miniatures.

This change in Hanson's style may have resulted from his choice of stone as his medium. It is also likely that, while at college, Hanson was introduced to the dominant artistic trends of the period, which indicated a shift away from naturalism toward abstraction. Woman Spanking Child represents Hanson's attempts to reconcile his naturalistic sculptural inclinations with Abstract Expressionism, a struggle that would consume Hanson throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. This is implied in a statement Hanson made later: ". . . I went to school and heard you had to be modern... I didn't really warm up until Pop Art made Realism legitimate again."

The work of the Pop artists of the 1960s—usually direct, literal renderings of commonplace objects, such as soup cans and Brillo boxes—undoubtedly encouraged Hanson to yield to his naturalistic inclinations. One of the first sculptures Hanson created after moving to South Florida in 1965 was Abortion, a two-foot-long mixed-media rendering of a dead pregnant woman sprawled on a table and covered with a sheet. Abortion reveals that by 1965 Hanson had not only embraced realism unabashedly, but he had begun to comment on contemporary life.

When Abortion was publicly displayed for the first time in Miami the following year, it provoked vehement reactions—both favorable and negative—and Hanson suddenly became a celebrity in the South Florida art scene. Apparently he decided that Abortion would have had even more impact if he had made it larger, for soon thereafter he recreated it life size. Although he was disappointed with the larger version of Abortion and he later destroyed it, he would never again work on a small scale. By 1967 he had begun casting sculptures in molds created directly from the bodies of human models, which became his standard method of working for the rest of his career.

Hanson's provocative lifelike sculptures of the human form, which he embellished with accessories such as hair, clothes and a variety of props, quickly attracted attention beyond South Florida. In 1967, the important New York art dealer Ivan Karp began to woo Hanson away from Miami, and in 1969 the artist moved to Manhattan. Although Hanson's move broadened his work's exposure in the New York art world, he quickly grew weary of the city. In 1973 he returned to South Florida, settling in Davie where he lived for the rest of his life.

Despite Hanson's absence from New York, his work's esteem and popularity continued to increase, and it was during the 1970s that he attained international recognition. One solo exhibition in particular, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City (1978), was influential in establishing Hanson as one of the leading sculptors of the late twentieth century. The exhibition unexpectedly attracted more than 297,000 visitors, thereby setting an attendance record for the museum that has never been surpassed.

Throughout his mature career, Hanson's intent as an artist was not merely to impress the viewer with the incredible verisimilitude of his sculpture. An indication of this was his fondness for quoting Henry David Thoreau's statement that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." In the downcast, sober gazes of Hanson's archetypes of humanity, most of which were inspired by working-class subjects, one senses that he wanted to comment on the contemporary human condition, that he intended to reflect the sense of isolation, loneliness, and alienation that we experience in the modern world.

Among the many awards and accolades Hanson received before his death in January 1996, he was perhaps most proud of those that identified him as a Florida artist. In 1983, he was given the Ambassador of the Arts Award of the State of Florida, and two years later he received the first annual "Florida Prize" of $10,000 for his outstanding achievements in sculpture. In 1987, he was honored with a "Duane Hanson Day" proclamation in Broward County, and he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 1992. Today, it is the general consensus that Hanson was the most popular and significant artist ever to have come out of South Florida.

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