Duane Hanson, Surfer, 1987, polyvinyl, polychromed in oil, mixed media, with accessories, 66 1/4 × 37 1/2 × 16 inches (168.3 × 95.3 × 40.6 cm). Photo by Rob McKeever
Duane Hanson’s hyper-realistic sculptures portraying working-class Americans eschewed the predominant Expressionist and Minimalist concerns of the 1950s and 1960s for an unflinching investigation of the human condition. Early life-size tableaux depicting soldiers killed in action, police brutality, and the homeless confronted viewers with devastating truths largely overlooked in the art of the time. Throughout his forty-year career, Hanson’s uncanny sculptural likenesses of blue-collar workers—repairmen, waitresses, and bricklayers—inhabited exhibition spaces eliciting surprise, embarrassment, amusement, and sympathy from unsuspecting viewers. Although his world-weary figures owe certain qualities to Pop and Photo-realism, their veracity prompts responses from viewers normally reserved for interactions with other living people. These sculptural illusions, radical in the context of their time, anteceded the later gestures of contemporary provocateurs such as Chris Burden, Maurizio Cattelan, and Fred Wilson.
Duane Hanson was born in 1925 in Alexandria, Minnesota, and died in 1996 in Boca Raton, Florida. He received a B.A. from Macalester College, Minnesota, and an M.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan. Selected solo exhibitions include Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark (1975); Des Moines Art Center (1977); Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1978); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1979); Kunsthaus Wien, Austria (1992); Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec (1994, traveled to Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas); Daimaru Museum of Art, Tokyo (1995, traveled to Genichiro-Inkuma Museum of Contemporary Art, Kagawa; and Kintetsu Museum of Art, Osaka); Saatchi Gallery, London (1997); “Duane Hanson, A Survey of his Work from the ‘30s to the ‘90s,” Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Florida (1998, traveled to Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis); “Duane Hanson: More than Reality, 2001,” Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2001, traveled to Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, Milan; Kunsthal Rotterdam; Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh; and Kunsthaus Zürich); “Duane Hanson: A Midwestern Perspecive,” Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio (2004); “Duane Hanson: Real Life,” Michener Museum of Art, Pennsylvania (2006); “Sculptures of the American Dream,” Kunsthalle Krems, Austria (2009, traveled to ARKEN—Museum for Moderne Kunst, Denmark; Helsinki City Art Museum; UNESCO Weltkulturerbe Völklinger Hütte, Germany; Fundación Canal, Madrid); “Duane Hanson,” Serpentine Gallery, London (2015); and “Duane Hanson Polaroids: 1979–1994,” Aperture Foundation, New York (2017).