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The Best of Ask Joan of Art: Duane Hanson's Sculpture
November 30, 2010

This post is part of an ongoing series on Eye Level: The Best of Ask Joan of Art. Begun in 1993, Ask Joan of Art is the longest-running arts-based electronic reference service in the country. The real Joan is Kathleen Adrian or one of her co-workers from the museum’s Research and Scholars Center. These experts answer the public's questions about art. Earlier this year, Kathleen began posting questions on Twitter and made the answers available on our Web site.

Duane Hanson

Duane Hanson's Woman Eating

Question: Duane Hanson's sculpture Woman Eating is dated 1971, but the magazine on the table where she sits is only a few years old. Why is this?

Answer: Woman Eating by Duane Hanson was originally shown with a TV Guide and National Enquirer magazine. In 2007, the museum's curatorial department removed the original reading material with Hanson's sculpture, placing them in conservation. The decision was made to replace this material with a contemporary tabloid, both to spare the originals from overexposure to light as well as heighten the surprise for visitors that the seated woman isn't alive. Not only do the synthetic materials used in this work mimic the look of human skin, but the careful pose of this figure often has caused museum viewers to pause with uncertainty as to whether Woman Eating is a sculpture or a person.

Hanson's works was influenced by Pop art in the 1960s, in particular the sculpture of George Segal. Cast in fiberglass and resin from live models, then painted and clothed, Hanson's life-size figures were often presented as ordinary individuals engaged in mundane activities. Woman Eating, for example, depicts an overweight, middle-aged woman sitting alone at a small restaurant table, eating ice cream. Her gaze is downward at her dessert and, in the original work, at copies of TV Guide and the National Enquirer. The original National Enquirer headline “How Retailers Cheat You When You Buy on Credit,” worked especially well with the larger issues of class and consumerism Hanson explored in this sculpted body, from the broken eyeglasses and dress missing a button to the overstuffed grocery bag and stained purse.

For further information about works by Duane Hanson, you might be interested in the following books: Duane Hanson: More than Reality by Thomas Buchsteiner, Keith Hartley, Luzia Matimo, Otto Letze, and Duane Hanson ; Christine Giles's Duane Hanson: Virtual Reality; and Kirk Varnedoe's Duane Hanson.

Have you ever been surprised by a piece of art that was more than it originally seemed?

Posted by Jeff on November 30, 2010 in American Art Here, Ask Joan of Art


Wow a very original sculpture--weird but very interesting. It really seems like a real woman.

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