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Danilo Milovanović: acts of resistance to the alienation of public space

As promised earlier this week, here’s a few notes about Danilo Milovanović, a super talented artist whose work i discovered at the Fotopub, the festival of young art and “unconventional curatorial gestures” which took place in early August in Novo Mesto, Slovenia.


Danilo Milovanović, Spontaneous Installations, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo courtesy of the artist


Danilo Milovanović, Note.Link.Transfer, 2019. Photo: Janez Klenovšek for Fotopub

Plastic Fantastic: On Duane Hanson’s Woman Eating

Maybe She's Born with it; Maybe it's Fiberglass...

Duane Hanson, Woman Eating, 1971, polyester resin and fiberglass with oil and acrylic paints and found accessories, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2005.22A-Z

Duane Hanson’s Woman Eating is strangely magnetic. Hyper-realistic, the sculpture captivates viewers who encounter it on the third floor of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The woman at the center of the work appears fossilized from another era, frozen in an everyday moment. Yet she is sculpted, specifically made of fiberglass, a plastic material disguised to represent flesh and the human form.

The fiberglass in this sculpture is covered with oil and acrylic paints and accompanied by found accessories and objects. Woman Eating (1971) is an early work in Hanson’s series depicting everyday people, which he began the year before. To construct these figurative sculptures, Hanson developed a particular process of casting in order to use the synthetic substance.

I became interested in Hanson’s work with plastics while I was in residence as a predoctoral fellow at SAAM. I was working on my dissertation, Plastic Fantastic: American Sculpture in the Age of Synthetics, which considers how artists from the 1960s and 1970s used plastics. While Hanson (1925–1996) is not featured in my dissertation, I have always been curious about his use of synthetics, since he began experimenting with plastics in the early 1960s, before many of his contemporaries.

Hanson first encountered fiberglass while living in Germany in the 1950s. There, he met artist Georg Grygo, who was using the material in public art commissions. Hanson at the time was teaching art in the U.S. Army Dependent School System. By 1961, he was stateside again, living in Atlanta, and starting to experiment with fiberglass on his own, at a time when industrial companies were making plastics increasingly more available to artists.

 

The woman at the center of the work appears fossilized from another era, frozen in an everyday moment. Yet she is sculpted, specifically made of fiberglass, a plastic material disguised to represent flesh and the human form.

 

Fiberglass is a hybrid plastic substance, marrying woven glass fibers with liquid polyester resin. First developed in the 1930s by the Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation, the material is made by splitting molten glass into thin filaments and weaving them together to produce textiles. The glass fabric is then dipped in or brushed with the liquid polyester resin as reinforcement and cured until rigid.

Fiberglass is especially adaptable for artists, as the glass cloth can be placed in a mold and then brushed with resin to create solid yet lightweight surfaces, akin to papier-mâché in process. Unlike other plastics that rely exclusively on industrial molding and extruding, fiberglass allows artists to work in the comfort of their own studios.

A research fellow talks to an audience about Duane Hanson's Woman Eating

The author speaking next to Duane Hanson’s Woman Eating.

In making works like Woman Eating, Hanson first cast directly from live models, often friends. Casting was done in one day, as models were greased with Vaseline—to avoid any hair pulling in the process—and then covered with plaster and cheesecloth to create the molds. Hanson used these molds to create the fiberglass figures, building two or three layers of flesh-toned, liquid polyester resin and then the glass fibers until the structure was solid. Then the plastic forms were removed from the molds and painted. Early works like Woman Eating were painted with thick coats of oil paint, which he later touched up with acrylic. He added blemishes, veins, and other details, attaching hair, clothing, and accessories last, as the final pieces for the sculptural collage.

While the artist worked with fiberglass throughout the early 1970s, in 1976 Hanson started using polyvinyl, a different plastic material for casting that allowed for finer details. With this new substance, he was able to insert hairs one at a time instead of using wigs. Woman Eating, then, is an important example of the artist’s work in fiberglass, a material that allowed him to construct the arresting sculptures that continue to resonate with viewers today.

I am indebted to SAAM’s conservators, who shared their extensive research on this sculpture with me. Conservator Jamie Gleason’s work treating the work was featured on Eye Level in the blog post, Conserving Duane Hanson’s Woman Eating.

Recently named Curator at The Kreeger Museum in Washington, D.C., Danielle O’Steen was a 2017-2018 Big Ten Academic Alliance Smithsonian Institution Predoctoral Fellow at SAAM. This blog post is based on a talk she gave at the museum as part of the Art Bites series, where SAAM’s research fellows share their discoveries about artworks from the collection.

Link to the original article here.

On Paul Thek’s Warrior’s Leg

Rarely exhibited, Paul Thek’s Warrior’s Leg (1966–1967) stands in the current exhibition Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965–1975. The artist, Paul Thek (1933–1988), cast a part of leg—most likely his own—painted it in realistic detail, and adorned it with a leather sandal and greave. The top part of the leg, which we can peer onto, reveals the flesh, sinews, and ligaments; the leg fragment once belonging to a warrior, as the title tells us, had been unceremoniously cut off, perhaps in battle.

An image of a leg with a covering over it.

Paul Thek, Warrior’s Leg from the series Technological Reliquaries, 1966-67, wax, leather, metal, and paint, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Bequest Fund, 1990. © The Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York, Photo by Cathy Carver. Courtesy Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Paisid Aramphongphan was a recent Terra Foundation Postdoctural Fellow at SAAM and holds a doctorate in the history of art and architecture from Harvard University. He was recently awarded the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s 2019 Terra Foundation for American Art International Essay Prize for his work on the artist Paul Thek.

 

The work is part of Thek’s Technological Reliquaries series, informally known as the Meat Pieces, which he worked on from around 1964 to 1967. At first, Thek sculpted wax to look like slabs of meat, and displayed them in all their gory and shiny detail (for an example of an early Meat Piece, see Untitled (Meat Pyramid) from 1964, currently on view in SAAM’s Luce Foundation Center). Around 1966, Thek started casting his own body parts, raising the unsettling uncanniness of his work. His ultimate goal was to cast his body as a corpse, which he did in a work that he presented as his tomb (The Tomb, 1967).

Paisid Aramphongphan speaking about Paul Thek's Warrior's Leg in Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War (1965-75)

Paisid Aramphongphan speaking about Paul Thek’s Warrior’s Leg in Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975

What had prompted, first of all, his morbid fascination with dead flesh and mutilated body parts? Among the formative events of his artistic imagination surely was Thek’s visit in the early 1960s, with the photographer Peter Hujar, his lover at the time, to the Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily. The sight (and, as he tells it, touch) of long dead, desiccated corpses stayed with him, and brought home the realization of the „thing-ness“ of his own body. With his Catholic background, Thek furthermore was taken in with the religious art he saw in Italy. The title of the series, Technological Reliquaries, refers to the relic tradition in religious material culture, while the leather strap and protective gear allude both to gladiators in Roman times and depictions of archangels such as Saint Michael in battle. The field of allusions the work makes—certainly not a set of common references his artistic peers were making in the 1960s at a time of self-referential, modernist art—speak to his hope of creating an art that would mean more to him, more than the cold coolness of the trendiest art of his time, from pop to minimalism, an art that would be closer to liturgy, to a „spiritual education,“ as opposed to the „technological education“ pervasive in society to the detriment of, in his view, collective well-being.

In Artists Respond, the work is shown alongside works of the often overlooked „hot“ and politicized side of 1960s art, many confronting the viewer with images of death and destruction, the ravages of war that were also being beamed straight into the living room during the first „televised war,“ as Martha Rosler’s work, also included in the exhibition, demonstrates so well. Beyond a statement against the prevailing artistic trend of his time, Warrior’s Leg in this context brings to mind losses and pain that, as Thek reflected on his experience walking through art galleries, co-mingling with his peers, the art world seemed helpless, if not simply disinterested, to do anything about. At the time of the work’s making, the US government was becoming further involved with the war in Vietnam, with deployment of more troops in the region as the war escalated, even as the anti-war movement was gaining ground.

In religious material culture, bodily fragments are not only associated with reliquaries. Another tradition is the ex-voto, a practice with a long history in many regions in the world, including in Sicily. Casts or replicas of afflicted body parts are offered to deities or higher spirits, with offerings, with prayers, with the hope to heal, or as gratitude for past healing performed. Sights of casts of legs, arms—or even models of internal organs such as the womb—lining the walls of shrines are common. Whose leg are we looking at, torn off but standing erect still? What healing could be asked of it? Whose healing?

The exhibition Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War is on view in Washington, DC through August 18. It then travels to Minnesota, opening at the Minneapolis Institute of Art September 29, 2019.

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