Artist and Musician Biographies


Here is Imma Ramos on the work of Duane Hanson at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London. In the same video, she reviews the work of Richard Prince at the Gagosian Gallery, so enjoy that for free, as well.

Duane Hanson was born in 1925 in Alexandria, Minnesota and died in 1996, in Florida. His father was a dairy farmer. After graduating from high school, Hanson attended Luther College in Iowa, the University of Washington in Seattle, and in 1945 transferred to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He studied sculpture and was the first art major to graduate from Macalester in 1946. In the late 1940's, Hanson taught at high schools in Idaho and Iowa. He attended Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills in Michigan, where he received an M.F.A. in 1951. About the same time, he married an opera singer, Janice Roche.

Hanson, after trying to sell his work in New York City, became an art teacher at a United States Army high school in West Germany. He remained in West Germany from 1957 to 1960, and during this time met sculptor George Grygo. Grygo was experimenting with polyester resin and fiberglass as materials to be used in making sculpture. Hanson returned to the United States in 1960, settling first in Atlanta, then in Miami.

Hanson worked in stone, wood, clay, welded steel, and even painting before he could find his own style. The emergence of Pop Art in the 1960's and the sculptures of George Segal helped Hanson to make his own statement. Like Segal, he used plaster of paris to make realistic-looking figures. His first figure was done in 1966. It was a dead pregnant woman covered with a shroud. The sculpture, titled "Abortion," was Hanson's bitter statement about illegal and dangerous abortions in Miami at that time. The sculpture was reluctantly accepted by the annual Sculptors of Florida Exhibition. As you might imagine, it soon became the center of controversy about abortion as well as censorship.

In 1967, Hanson, still involved with sculptural realism, created a series of works in polyester resin. The sculpture, "Accident" (1967), was a depiction of a motorcycle crash. "War" (1969) was a scene of dead and dying soldiers. It was to protest against the Vietnam War. "Riot" (1969-1971), a sculpture depicting racial conflict, caused local controversy. This controversy was picked up by the national press and helped Hanson to be recognized. In 1969, Hanson had three sculptures in the Whitney Museum of American Art's exhibition "Human Concern/Personal Torment: The Grotesque in American Art." He had his first solo show in 1970 at the O. K. Harris Gallery, in New York's Soho district.

In 1969, Hanson began looking for a new way of making a critical statement about American society. He moved away from violent subject matter of the earlier sculptures to parodies of American life. One of his early sculptures of this type, "Supermarket Shopper" (1970), is a life-size pudgy woman in curlers with a shopping cart filled with junk food and TV dinners. Another sculpture, "Tourists" (1970), is an elderly gentleman dressed in Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian print shirt, with camera gear hanging everywhere, and his wife dressed in red toreador pants and holding a plastic bag containing tour guides.

By the mid-1970s, Hanson's sculptures were less sarcastic and more compassionate. "Reclining Man Drinking" (1972) portrays the aimless affluence of the middle class. "Seated Old Woman Shopper" (1974) looks at the lonely lives of the elderly, and "Rita" (1975) is a portrait of a tired waitress.

Hanson's sculptures become super-real. He used the natural poses of his models and then makes plaster molds of their bodies. He then makes polyvinyl casts from the molds, which virtually replicate the subject. He then paints the figures, applies hair, clothing, and props to make the sculptures as real as possible. The clothing often comes from the person who modeled for the sculpture. Critics in Europe and America have linked Hanson with photo-realism. In 1974, he had a retrospective exhibit in West Germany and Denmark. Hanson had a retrospective at the Whitney Museum and by the time of this show, he had destroyed most of his very early controversial work and his abstract work. "Museum Guard" (1976) fooled people, who, thinking him to be alive, would ask him questions.

Hanson was the father of five children. Three were from his first marriage, which ended in divorce, and two were from his second marriage. He left New York City in 1973 and moved to Florida, where he lived until his death in 1996.

Page author: C.A.