After three decades, the figures Duane Hanson casts from live bodies are so familiar we rarely think of them other than as relics of Photo realist days gone by. So as not to be seen as hopelessly out of it, we keep secret our fascination with the illusion of life Hanson so skillfully creates out of painted polyvinyl or bronze. It satisfies some of our latent voyeuristic tendencies - while we may be curious, conventional behavior prevents us from just walking up to people on the street and examining every pimple and dimple - and it's still fun to be fooled by the museum guard who turns out to be fake.
Although the work itself hasn't changed dramatically over the years, in the context of the socially aware '90s, Hanson's art takes on new relevance. This show continues Hanson's central theme: ordinary people trapped in the tedium of their daily lives. Standing or sitting in repose, gazing downward or at a distant point in space, they seem frozen in a rare moment of contemplation. The five new pieces are all white males of various ages: a student holding a history book, a wary cowboy carrying a harness, a security guard with a walkie-talkie, an overweight touristy photographer, and a polyester-clad salesman. Their very mundanity, although sympathetically rendered, engenders an uncomfortable tendency to place them – and, by extension, the viewer as well – into a social hierarchy. By challenging viewers to measure their lives against ones he has depicted, Hanson creates a kind of Rorschach test for our prejudices and assumptions.
In his choice of accoutrements, Hanson has often been heavy-handed, veering dangerously close to cliché. However, the of a salesman in this show could well indicate an important new direction. Propless and nondescriptly dressed, the middle-aged man provides few clues to his identity, and this ambiguity contributes to what is Hanson's most evocative and complex character to date. Standing rigidly with arms crossed, this is a man who cannot allow himself to relax, a person poised to relinquish his private thoughts at instant to make a snappy comeback. His outward gaze and defensive stance betray a lifetime of cajoling others, to make a buck.
Hanson’s men seem unaware that, according to the lore of the Politically Correct, they are the ones who have it all. This is the white male at his most vulnerable.