Duane Hanson is born in Alexandria, Minn. in 1925. He starts his studies at the University of Minnesota where he receives a degree in 1946. In 1950 he enrols at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan to focus exclusively on sculpture. Hanson’s first works are still ambivalently positioned in the field of tension between figure and abstraction. In 1953 he travels to Europe for the first time and decides to teach at German art schools that are affiliated with the U.S. Army. He stays in Munich for four years and for another three years he teaches in Bremerhaven. There he gets to know German artist George Gyro who uses polyester raisin and fibreglass as materials in his works.
In 1961 Hanson returns to Florida where he starts to experiment with polyester raisin in 1963. He is interested in the life-like impression of this material which promises a direct confrontation of the viewer with a reality that appears deceptively authentic. After 1967 Hanson’s first life-size figures and groups of figures made of fibreglass and synthetic raisin are produced from casts of live models. The casts are then painted and clothed. Hanson uses the illusionary effect he achieves for drastic social criticism. Major conflicts of American society, the question of race, dire poverty and violence, as well as hypocritical morals become the themes of his work. His critique of the government and its political failure, for example in the Vietnam war, is recorded in a quasi-documentary way. Very important is the theatre-like staging of the figures that, positioned in the middle of a real world, remind of Environments by artist Ed Kienholz (Abortion, 1965; Wa,r 1967; Gangland Victim, 1967;Football Players, 1968).
At first Hanson’s work is shown at regional exhibitions. With his moving to New York his thematic focus changes. Now everyday life with its tacky life style as well as products advertised in the mass media become the object of exhibition. The cheap and the ugly are being recorded meticulously: from curlers to the cigarette tucked in the corner of the mouth, realistic details characterize an environment that tells of social injustice, neglect, and desolation. Moreover, the bodies of the figures become symbols of social conditions. Obese body shapes and the processes of aging are unsparingly shown in these figures that appear shockingly authentic (Housewife, 1970; Tourists, 1970; Woman Eating, 1971).
In 1972 Hanson participates in the Documenta and becomes internationally renowned. His hyperrealist sculptures are now also experienced as a phenomenon of the time. First larger solo exhibits in Stuttgart, Hamburg, and eventually also at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1974) follow. Starting in 1984, Hanson creates polychrome, painted bronze sculptures, his first works being a series of Cowboy types (Rodeo-Cowboy, 1984). The artist continues working with this material in the following years. He develops a comprehensive spectrum of social types, representatives of different social groups, from those who travel (Traveller, 1985) to businessmen (Executive in Blue Chair, 1988), from body builders and security guards to sun-bathers.
Since 1972, Hanson’s works have been exhibited in numerous solo- and group exhibitions. In 2001 his sculptures were shown in a large traveling exhibition.
Duane Hanson dies in 1996 in Boca Raton / Florida.
Duane Hanson. More than Reality: Ausst.-Kat. Frankfurt u.a., hg. von Thomas Buchsteiner und Otto Letze, Ostfildern Ruit 2001
Breyhan Christine: Duane Hanson. Housewife. Triumph der Künstlichkeit: Ostfildern Ruit 2000
Duane Hanson, Skulpturen: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle und Kunstverein Tübingen u.a., hg. v. Martin H. Bush und Thomas Buchsteiner, Stuttgart 1990
Ruhrberg, Karl: Duane Hanson, Stuttgart 1992