The exhortation Do not touch is needed for the exhibition on hyperrealistic sculpture at the Kunsthal Rotterdam. You will involuntarily experience how the lifelike skin feels, whether the breathing is not noticeable, or whether the sunken gaze can be disturbed.
“I hope that the visitors will have different reactions during the exhibition,” says curator Eva van Diggelen. “Initially you have to get used to it. Then you discover how cleverly it is made, just as it is right. And then you move on to the exhibition, where you play with format and distortion, and other questions arise: how do you Do I relate to this?”
With 35 works by 28 artists, the museum provides an overview of hyperrealistic sculpture in the Netherlands for the first time. Apathetic Workers by Duane Hanson. A lifelike baby of 5 meters by Ron Mueck. Confrontational nude by Paul McCarthy. Fragile reduced female figures by Sam Jinks. Silicone, synthetic resin and even bronze transformed into skin, often with authentic hair or clothing.
Reporter Peer Ulijn was already walking through the sculptures. A trip:
This is what the hyper-realistic exhibition looks like
The Americans Duane Hanson and John De Andrea are considered the patriarchs of the movement. Their choice for realism was counterintuitive in the 1960s, says guest curator Otto Letze. “Back then, art courses mainly had abstract art on the syllabus. Realistic movements were excluded until the pop art movement said goodbye to it. When people started thinking about mass media, more artists also started working more realistically.”
“The desire to perfectly imitate the human body has always existed in art. In ancient times it was one of the main themes for artists,” continues Letze. “Hanson was not interested in traditional themes, but wanted to show the living conditions of everyday Americans.”
“He was very political. He focused on people who had fallen behind. He wanted to show the lower middle class of America. People who would otherwise have been overlooked. You can see it in their eyes, the sad look of the lower class.”
Hanson tried to imitate his models as carefully as possible: for Two workers he had two German museum officers fly to Florida, where he made casts of them and used their hair and clothes for the statues. His successors play with proportions: by depicting a model larger or smaller or by disrupting it completely, the human body is put in a new light.
“The images get under your skin,” says Van Diggelen. “It’s more than just the look-alikes; zooming in and out has a certain effect. Normally a baby is very small, but now suddenly you have to walk around it. It’s a completely different idea of a baby while still having the vulnerable look has.”
Letze gets goosebumps from a shrunken female figure. “If it had been marble, it would have been an idealized form. But now, when you see flesh, you experience it differently. I am overwhelmed. It feels uncomfortable.”
He points to a cheerful monstrosity of Patricia Piccinini. “It raises questions. When something like this is born, do you love it as much as a normal baby? Is it raised differently? Can such a thing exist? Basic questions about life, death, and various intermediate forms.”
Therefore, do not compare the exhibition with Madame Tussauds. The wax figures are intended to fulfill a need for celebrities, while the work here aims to disturb. “Madame Tussauds is a cold representation of people we know from television,” argues Van Diggelen. “These pictures represent people like you and me. There is more feeling here, not a cold reflection of a celebrity.”
“These images provide a universal sense of alienation, of voyeurism, because you can look for so long at someone who looks real.”