Duane Hanson's bronze flea market ladies star in surreal new catalogue

19 January 2015

Karma Books have just published a catalogue of Duane Hanson’s post-humous exhibition Flea Market Lady. Shown at New York’s Gagosian Gallery, Duane’s flea market ladies are taken from real-life characters and cast in bronze. An incredible feat of observation and skill, his work captures the character of his models and creates a very real atmosphere of flea-ing. Karma have kindly let us publish an extract from the imaginary conversation Maurizio Cattelan has with the artist in the foreword to the book:

Maurizio Cattelan: [Is it] challenging starting a sculpture knowing that you have to reach [such a] level of perfection?

Duane Hanson: Working in three dimensions has always been a challenge, but I think that I’ve got it down pretty well.

MC: No kidding. Some of your sculptures can be pretty scary.

DH: Sometimes it’s frightening, some of them are hard to confront. They have a life of their own. They had a life when I made them and now they have to face the world.


Duane Hanson: Flea Market Lady

MC: How do you select the people you portray?

DH: I try not to pick people that are very interesting – an interesting face or a strange expression. I stay away from that. I want to confront people with something from their daily experience.

MC: It’s not just about facial expressions though. Another common thread running through your characters is that they all have a pretty round figure.

DH: I always like bringing out the weight, communicating a certain amount of heaviness that I find in our time – a kind of sadness. The subject matter that I like best deals with the lower and working class Americans of today. To me, the resignation, emptiness, and loneliness of their existence captures the true reality of life for these people.

MC: That’s quite a negative view of today’s society.

DH: I think society needs to be reformed. Society is not servicing the people, there is nothing uplifting for the average man.


Duane Hanson: Flea Market Lady

MC: Aren’t you afraid that the incredible level of accuracy in your sculptures can be detrimental to the message you’re trying to convey? That people will just focus on the technique?

DH: I’m not interested in the technique, it’s just a tool to make what I do more convincing and to have a little more impact or bring out the subtleties.

MC: I agree, but don’t you think that making more jarring compositions could help get the message across? Like having the Pope hit by a meteorite or an old lady in a fridge. [Laughter]

DH: You don’t have to hit the viewer over the head every time, you can come in rather slyly or subtly and get the message across. My ideal is to make a sculpture first, nice forms, and let the people, the fat people, have a physical impact on the viewer. Of course the way I compose them they communicate, well, despair. I’m interested in the everyday things that people do, the common denominator, those things that are down to earth, non-elitist. I want to make so many different sculptures and work with different subject matter, like athletic types. Sports are so important in our culture; everyone’s trying to get healthier. It’s really the opiate of the American people.


Duane Hanson: Flea Market Lady

MC: You were born in Minnesota and lived most of your life in Florida. Have you ever been tempted to move to New York?

DH: I’ve always felt sort of alien, a fish out of water, in regards to a lot of contemporary avant-garde work in New York. It’s concerned with being cool and always looking back at a distance and never involving yourself. I get involved with each piece. Of course, I think it’s bad if you get too involved and it’s too obvious.

MC: So New York’s Ashcan School wasn’t a source of inspiration?

DH: No. I see myself as a true Expressionist. […]

MC: Is there anything left that you haven’t done and would like to do?

DH: Well, it’s sort of frustrating, but I feel in my case I haven’t really explored. I’ve just scratched the surface of what I want to do. And I want to perfect what I do. A lot of times, I haven’t perfected what I’ve done. I guess everybody says that.


Duane Hanson: Flea Market Lady


Duane Hanson: Flea Market Lady


Duane Hanson: Flea Market Lady

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Billie Muraben

Billie studied illustration at Camberwell College of Art before completing an MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. She joined It’s Nice That as a Freelance Editorial Assistant back in January 2015 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis.

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