Exhibition: Hyperrealist Sculpture 1973-2016 - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum


2016-06-07 • 2016-09-26

Hyperrealist Sculpture 1973-2016

BBK Gallery

On display in the Museum's BBK Gallery, Hyperrealist Sculpture 1973-2016 presents a selection of 34 works by the 26 artists most representative of this movement. This is the first exhibition that aims to offer an in-depth survey of human figuration spanning the more than fifty years of hyperrealism's existence.

In the 1960s and 1970s a number of sculptors began to be interested in a form of realism based on a vivid and lifelike representation of the human figure. Employing traditional techniques such as modelling, casting and painting, they reproduced the body using a range of different focuses but with the shared aim of formulating a clearly contemporary interpretation of figurative realism. In the words of Ron Mueck: "Although I spend a lot of time on the surface, it's the life inside I want to capture." This exhibition presents five different ways of approaching the depiction of the body through the five sections into which it is organised: "Human replicas"; "Monochrome sculptures"; "Body parts"; "Playing with size"; and "Deformed realities". As a result, and through a series of works that will surprise viewers with their convincing appearance of reality, the exhibition reveals the numerous and varied ways in which this artistic theme has been depicted, its relationship with different trends in art history, and its technical evolution from the early years of the movement to the present digital era.

The selection includes all the leading hyperrealist sculptors, starting with the American pioneers George Segal, Duane Hanson and John DeAndrea. It continues with the rise of the movement internationally, represented by Juan Muñoz (Spain), Maurizio Cattelan (Italy), Berlinde de Bruyckere (Belgium), Ron Mueck, Sam Jinks and Patricia Piccinini (Australia) and Evan Penny (Canada), among others. The exhibition thus emphasises the international nature of hyperrealism as well as its ongoing relevance: the recently completed work Lisa by John DeAndrea will be presented to the public for the first time. In order to achieve this global vision the Institute for Cultural Exchange in Tübingen (Germany), with which the Museum collaborated in 2014 on the well-received exhibition on hyperrealist painting, has secured loans from numerous collections around the world based on the selection made by its director Otto Letze, the curator of this exhibition.




1. Human replicas

In the 1960s, Duane Hanson and John DeAndrea produced sculptures that seemed to be real, living and breathing human figures, for which they made use of extremely laborious procedures and innovative materials. The startling realism of their works transmits an illusion of authenticity to the viewer and the sense of being in front of a human replica that functions as a type of mirror of oneself. Hanson and DeAndrea's works have exercised a fundamental influence on the evolution of sculpture over the past fifty years.

Duane Hanson (Alexandria, Minnesota, USA, 1925 – Boca Ratón, Florida, USA, 1996)
Hanson began his career in the 1960s, making life-size human figures from fibreglass and polyester moulds obtained from real models which he completed with clothing and accessories. Hanson was initially interested in social critique before soon moving on to focus on the representation of marginal or middle-class individuals. Together with DeAndrea, he presented the first hyperrealist sculptures at documenta 5 in Kassel (1972).

John DeAndrea (born Denver, USA, 1941)
Since the early 1960s, DeAndrea has revealed a fascination for the genre of the nude, almost always female. The artist uses plaster moulds made from real models to produce the final work in fibreglass and other synthetic materials, which is then finished with real hair and paint. The result is to confront the viewer with a living, self-absorbed presence, whose corporeality evokes classical antiquity.

Daniel Firman (born Bron, France, 1966)
Firman's interest in the physicality of the body is evident in his life-size sculptures that capture human movement without reproducing the face or skin and which focus intensely on the presence of the figure in space.

Paul McCarthy (born Salt Lake City, USA, 1945)
McCarthy's work has been overtly provocative from the 1970s onwards. He frequently uses moulds made from real models, which he reproduces with enormous technical precision, thus achieving the effect of a replica that locates the viewer in an uncomfortable position, mid-way between fascination and voyeuristic complacency.


2. Monochrome sculptures


In the late 1950s, following period when abstraction prevailed in art, George Segal's monochrome sculptures once again drew attention to the human figure. Due to his influence, subsequent generations of artists focused on realist sculpture. In Segal's works the absence of colour reduces the effect of reality and instead emphasises the anonymity of the figure and the aesthetic qualities of its corporeality. Artists such as Keith Edmier and Juan Muñoz made use of these aspects to formulate questions on human nature.


George Segal (New York, USA, 1924 – New Jersey, USA, 2000)
In his early works of the late 1950s, Segal used wood and wire as the supporting structure for his figures, but in 1961 he began to model the bodies directly with plaster-soaked bandages. He contextualised his monochrome sculptures with objects ranging from a chair to an entire room, thus giving his creations a theatrical nature while assisting viewers to project themselves onto them.

Juan Muñoz (Madrid, 1953 – Ibiza, 2001)
From the 1990s onwards Juan Muñoz focused on the human figure, often arranged in groups in which the participants are interrelated. Muñoz's monochrome figures are made in bronze, synthetic resin and papier-mâché and are often smaller than life-size, which gives them an interchangeable, serial character.

Keith Edmier (born Chicago, USA, 1967)
Edmier worked with various Hollywood studios before devoting his attention to sculpture in the 1990s. His works, which are often made of synthetic resin, maintain a relatively close relationship with his life and with the world around him. Edmier's life-size sculptures depict people from his immediate circle, as in the example in the exhibition: his mother when pregnant, wearing a copy of the Chanel dress worn by Jackie Kennedy the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

Xavier Veilhan (born Lyon, France, 1963)
Since the 1990s Veilhan has focused on sculpture and installations, frequently incorporating photography, film, performance and more recently, computer-based techniques. Veilhan's principal theme is the way sight is conditioned in the digital era, for which purpose he alters the surface and shape of his works, simplifying or pixelating the forms until they disappear.

Brian Booth Craig (born Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 1968)
A highly esteemed artist in the USA, Craig devotes all his attention to sculpture, principally in bronze and of either life-size or smaller format. The clay tone of his figures focuses the viewer's attention on the firm, decided pose. Craig's works recall the archaic ideal of the human being and establish connections with antiquity and mythology.


3. Body parts


In the 1990s numerous artists introduced a new format into hyperrealist sculpture. Rather than aiming to create the illusion of corporeality, they focused their attention on specific parts of the body, which they used as a support for disturbing messages, on occasions with touches of humour. In the works of Robert Gober or Maurizio Cattelan disconnected arms and legs emerge from the wall and suggest ideas connected with childhood or modern history. A forerunner of this trend was the British artist John Davies, whose life-size heads seem to refer to archaeological fragments of classical sculptures.


John Davies (born Cheshire, UK, 1946)
At the outset of his career Davies produced drawings and small-scale sculptures which he increased in size until they reached real or even monumental proportions. Davies's extensive oeuvre includes life-size heads in fibreglass and synthetic materials, in addition to sculptures and groups produced from moulds in a fragmentary manner. The use of glass and unexpected objects such as shells and masks gives his work a disturbing, surreal effect.

Carole A. Feuerman (born Hartford, USA, 1945)
Together with Hanson and DeAndrea, Feuerman was one of the pioneering hyperrealist sculptors of the 1970s. After finishing her artistic training, she began to work in bronze, resin, steel and marble and has recently also been interested in public sculpture. From the outset of her career Feuerman used the theme of water as an image for the search for interior harmony. The predominant motifs in her work are torsos wearing swimwear and accessories.

Robert Gober (born Wallingford, Connecticut, USA, 1954)
In the 1980s, Gober's interest shifted towards the sculptural representation of body parts, although he continued to be active as a painter, graphic designer and photographer. His hyperrealist body fragments emerge from walls with no context, challenging the viewer with their surprisingly disturbing realism.

Jamie Salmon (born London, 1971)
Salmon initially worked in the film industry. His artistic output comprises meticulously detailed and precise sculptures which create the illusion of being real, living and breathing people. However, in order to break that aesthetic of the real, the artist also shows body parts and allows the materials used – synthetic resin, silicone, rubber, cloth and real hair – to be seen, thus emphasising the impression of the unreal within the real and obliging the viewer to reflect on perceived reality.

Maurizio Cattelan (born Padua, Italy, 1960)
In addition to synthetic resin, Cattelan uses everyday materials, stuffed animals and human hair. His simple, life-size sculptures are located between the grotesque and the sarcastic. Cattelan frequently offers a fragmentary gaze on a scene or shows parts of objects or bodies located in disconcerting and provocative contexts.

Peter Land (born Aarhus, Denmark, 1966)
In the 1990s Land's reputation increased with his videos in which he filmed himself in grotesque situations. His sculptures represent people in contexts mid-way between the chaotic and the surrealist, confronting the viewer with the rootless vulnerability of modern man.


4. Playing with size


Ron Mueck revolutionised figurative sculpture in the 1990s through his use of unprecedented formats, drastically increasing or reducing the size of the figures and thus focusing attention on existential themes such as birth, death or the fragility of life and showing human beings from a new perspective.

Ron Mueck (born Melbourne, Australia, 1958)
Following more than two decades designing models and special effects for film and advertising, in the mid-1990s Ron Mueck began to create hyperrealist sculptures of silicone and acrylic materials which represent the cycle of life through birth, illness and death. Mueck increases or reduces the size of the figures, which he makes as close to real life as possible, thus questioning our way of seeing proportions and of perceiving the spatial presence of figures.

Sam Jinks (born Bendigo, Australia, 1973)
Jinks first worked as an illustrator and creator of figures made of silicone and latex during his time in the film industry. His hyperrealist anthropomorphic sculptures, which are silicone-coated over clay moulds, reproduce the human body with fascinating lifelikeness. Combined with their poses and the delicate depiction of the skin, the fact that the figures are smaller than life-size emphasises their sense of vulnerability.

Zharko Basheski (born Prilep, Macedonia, 1957)
In his work Basheski focuses on life's challenges through intensely emotional representations, an aspect he emphasises by playing with the dimensions. Some of the figures are monumental and thus inapproachable while others are small in scale, making them seem indecisive and mistrustful.

Marc Sijan (born Serbia, 1946)
In the 1970s Sijan worked with Duane Hanson and is now considered his successor. To create the hyperrealist illusion of his life-size figures he works painstakingly with real models and magnifying glasses in order to ensure that his characters seem real as well as dignified, despite their imperfections.

Robert Graham (Mexico City, 1938 – Santa Monica, California, USA, 2008)
In the 1960s Graham produced small-scale wax figures enclosed in Plexiglas cases that recreated miniature worlds. In the 1970s he continued to produce figurative and very naturalistic sculptures but now cast in bronze. Graham's work principally comprises less than life-size female figures in bronze installed on tall, narrow bases which bring them close to real, human size and give them an arrogant appearance.


5. Deformed realities


Over the past few decades, scientific and technological developments have brought about a radical change in our perception and comprehension of reality. As a result, artists such as Evan Penny and Patricia Piccinini observe bodies from distorted perspectives, while Tony Matelli cancels the laws of nature and Berlinde de Bruyckere questions death and human existence through her twisted bodies.

Evan Penny (born Elim, South Africa, 1953)
Penny's sculptures represent the human body with astonishing accuracy, particularly the skin. By compressing, stretching and changing real proportions, the artist creates distorted effects comparable to those of photography, television or the digital treatment of images. Penny's sculptures deceive the viewer's eye and question our perception in the digital era.

Berlinde de Bruyckere (born Ghent, Belgium, 1964)
Since the 1990s Berlinde de Bruyckere has experimented with organic materials such as wax, wood, wool, cloth, leather and human hair. Partly inspired by images in the media, she produces distorted sculptures made of wood and wax which evoke the human body or parts of it. In addition, the fact that these works have layers of colour and bandages applied to them makes them seem profoundly vulnerable, submerging the viewer in the death, suffering and torture that underlies them.

Tony Matelli (born Chicago, USA, 1971)
Matelli studied in New York, Wisconsin and Michigan then worked for some years with Jeff Koons. In his work, which is characterised by its enormous technical perfection, gravity seems not to exist, time has stopped and materials are not what they seem. Matelli often presents his figures in grotesque situations that disconcert the viewer.

Mel Ramos (Sacramento, California, USA, 1935)
In 1963 Mel Ramos took part alongside Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist in the exhibition Pop! Goes the Easel, which significantly advanced his career. Ramos's paintings, drawings and sculptures parody the trivial images of the advertising industry through erotic female nudes that promote mass-consumption products.

Patricia Piccinini (born Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1965)
Piccinini creates hybrid beings made of silicone and plastic, located mid-way between the human, the animal and machines. These distorted, hyperrealist figures with hair on different parts of their bodies and viscous protuberances may seem mysterious and inaccessible but they also convey a certain human dignity.

Allen Jones (born Southampton, UK, 1937)
Allen Jones is one of the leading representatives of British Pop Art. The time he spent in the United States, where he encountered the world of advertising and marketing and the techniques of illustration and Pop Art, had a decisive influence on his work. Jones achieved fame with his erotic, provocative female figures and particularly with his furniture-sculptures that were poorly received in feminist circles but which still today question issues such as morality and femininity.

In the image:
Sam Jinks (Bendigo, Australia, 1973)
Untitled (Kneeling Woman), 2015
Silicone, pigments, resin and hair, 30 x 72 x 28 cm
© Sam Jinks. Courtesy of the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

Content of exhibition: Hyperrealist Sculpture 1973-2016