Duane Hanson, Tourists II, 1988
Models of people made in the name of art are hardly a new concept but nonetheless there’s something unexpected about figurative sculpture that needs a second glance – at least – to reveal itself as object rather than person. Duane Hanson’s figures look very real – indeed his working process included casting from live models – and often very out of place in contemporary gallery spaces. It’s the incongruousness of the figures in the context that makes me most enjoy the ones who look like they just might be real until one gets close enough to spot the pretence. Seen in a London gallery, Hanson’s Tourists look like they might be American tourists who have wandered into a contemporary art space by mistake. Hanson is dealing in stereotypes, but in doing so, he is asking us to question our own preconceptions.
Though often seemingly larger than life as characters, they are made on a human scale and share the space with us. The Man on a Bench looks reflective, sad even, but he could just be less than impressed by the art on show and in need of a break. Hanson’s figures are well observed and believable. Queenie might be cleaning the gallery at an inappropriate time and with an unexpectedly wide range of cleaning materials at her disposal, but she’s just about believable anyway.
Of course there are precedents other than sculpture for these figures. Though not celebrities and indeed not made of wax, they nonetheless seem reminiscent of wax works in their hyper-reality. Arguably, close up Hanson’s figures don’t quite convince. But in creating a strange narrative – with the potential for comedy – around the people they bring to mind, ultimately for me that really doesn’t matter very much.