Keeping Up With the Joneses
June 14, 2007
Looking over some Washington Post archives, I found this review by Michael O'Sullivan of a show that was up at American University's Katzen Arts Center earlier this spring:
Sculptor Duane Hanson's (1925-96) famously realistic, life-size human figures, 15 of which have been scattered throughout the museum in trompe l'oeil fashion, are more problematic. On one level, Hanson's sculptures haven't aged well. Like the now-antique-looking accoutrements his characters pose with (the once-colorful jigsaw puzzle, for example, assembled by a little girl sitting on the museum floor, the out-of-fashion clothing, the wigs that look borrowed from a J.C. Penney floor display, circa 1979), Hanson's art feels dated, especially when compared with the higher-tech work of contemporary sculptor Ron Mueck.
Rather than detracting from its power, however, the air of a faded snapshot -- underscored here for the first time by old reference photographs Hanson made -- lends the work a layer of meaning and poignancy I doubt was ever intended when the figures were made.
Mueck's work is as advanced as you'll find in the wax figure mode. His sculptures have a cold, fleshy look that give them a detached feel, as if they'd fit in better at the morgue. (And, of course, the presence of such works in a museum can be read as a critical commentary about art institutions.) But one day even Mueck's technically innovative works will look more dated than dead; and as with any cutting-edge art work, there's always the risk that it will fall out of the conversation entirely after a decade.
Hanson's work spoofs the experience of attending the museum—you can still walk around a corner and have the wool pulled over your eyes by one of his figures. As O'Sullivan says, today, Hanson's work has a certain vintage appeal. Beyond that aspect, these works still speak to the museum experience by serving as a contrast. This is one standard for trompe l'oeil art: As the technical merit fades or passes out of style, another characteristic of a good work comes to the fore.
That wax figure of the woman eating did look real. I think the fact that Hanson did choose to portray a woman who is a bit heavy, with glasses, and blemishes on her skin adds to the realism. The flaws makes the wax figure look much more realistic since most people are a little too heavy or slim, or have some acne or mole, etc.
Hanson is famous for his sculptures of ordinary people who are overlooked by the images created by the mainstream media. The detail he adds allows each figure to tell a story of a thousand words, some of which have powerful cultural and social messages.
Posted by: political forum | Jun 23, 2007
Wow! That looks so real. Does anyone know of any other great examples by Mueck?
Posted by: Robyn | Jul 10, 2007
Re: Mueck - - this piece:
was on view at the Hirshhorn a few years ago. It's huge, and I didn't know it was there, and when I walked into the room I had this immediate instinctive fight-or-flight reaction. I mean, the ancient parts of my brain just screamed "ruuuunnnn!" It made me giggle like an idiot when the rational part of my brain caught up.
There's a Ron Mueck catalog raisonne with an ISBN number of 3775717196 that I saw at the gift shop and recommend.
Posted by: Michael Edson | Aug 9, 2007
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