Dike Blair & Duane Hanson
August 26–September 10, 2017

249 Main Street
Amagansett, NY 11937

To the Editors,

In Michael Kimmelman’s review “Is Duane Hanson the Phidias of Our Time?” [Feb. 27], the critic employs a condescending and flip style to dismiss the work of a very interesting artist. While doing so, he fails to properly contextualize the work historically and also misses the implications of the work in the present.

Mr. Kimmelman makes no mention of the counter-cultural part of the art world that Mr. Hanson and the photo-realists inhabited in the 70’s. These artists explored the nature of representation and eschewed the touchy-feely expressionism that many need in order to recognize something as art. Their commercial success insured that their work was treated lightly by the academy which was then celebrating conceptual and process oriented artists like Robert Morris. The subjects and strategies of these “realists” were often considered banal. The critic’s “banal” is often code for “accessible;” thus, if 5000 people visit Hanson’s exhibition in Montreal, the critic is compelled to be suspicious–in Kimmelman-speak–struck with Jerry Lewiphobia. Hanson and his colleagues were not only making popular work, they were exploring the technical and perceptual possibilities of representation. What happens when artists accelerate illusion has nothing to do with “reality,” but with the new strangeness and new understanding that this illusion gives our reality. Paintings of photographs changed our notion of photography. Mr. Hanson’s works do occasionally “fool” people, I’ve seen it happen, and witnessed the pleasure in those who experience the illusion. Perhaps it is the directness of this experience between art object and audience, requiring no explanation, that rankles some critics. But Hanson’s works also startle us in a more complicated fashion. They have a similar impact to that of viewing a corpse, they make us recognize the components of our humanity.

The works of Robert Morris, Kiki Smith and Robert Gober have almost nothing to do with Hanson’s aesthetic (although Charles Ray’s probably does). It seems that Mr. Kimmelman conjures them at the beginning of his article so he can brandish his “no magic” club later. If one were to discuss the contemporary equivalent to Mr. Hanson’s sensibility, one might mention an artist like Mark Dippé who works at fashioning highly realistic effects for George Lucas’s ILM studios. In the fuzzy area between commercial and fine art there are many young artists working to create wonderful and revealing vibrations between representations and the represented–this may be the context in which to place Mr. Hanson. There is magic happening at the edge of representation and this suggests to me that Hanson’s work was not, and is not, the “dead end” that Mr. Kimmelman concludes.

(An edited version of this text was originally published in the New York Times, March 20, 1994.)

Dike Blair’s new oil paintings capture a split second of the observed world with deadpan perception. They bring attention to the banal and transitory details of everyday life, like a view of the sky from a window, the markings in a parking lot, or footprints in snow. Though personal and diaristic, they equally offer a view of common and conventional existence.

Duane Hanson similarly works with the banal and commonplace, but offers people as his subjects. Life size and realistic down to the hair on their arms, their uncanniness is only furthered by their frozen state and the loneliness of their archetypal roles becomes obvious in their stares.