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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

Understanding hyperrealistic sculptures


Eyes plunged into space, in a position of inertia, the two workers of Duane Hanson (1925-1996), decked out in different accessories, create the illusion of a scene from everyday life. This American artist is, with John De Andrea, one of the great historical representatives of hyperrealist sculpture. In the 1960s, he created life-size sculptures of human figures, disturbing with realism. His interest quickly turned to representations of the working class and marginalized groups, thus deploying a sharp critique of the American Way of Life. This return to realism, which manifests itself as well in the field of painting with artists like Chuck Close that in the field of sculpture, like pop art, fits in reaction to the abstraction that largely dominated the artistic scene. Orchestrated by the famous exhibition curator Harald Szeemann, Documenta 5 by Kassel (1972), Investigation of reality - Today's imagery, allowed hyperrealists to benefit for the first time from significant international visibility, also arousing strong reactions in the press and the public.


In his installation Do not leave me, Mathilde ter Heijne shows a prostrate mannequin in front of a screen and next to a radio. This Dutch artist (born in 1969) creates duplicates of herself that she stages in uncomfortable situations linked to fear, pain, violence. She questions in this way, our identity constructions and the position of women within our patriarchal systems.

At a time when new technologies are exploding, harming our identity construction more than ever, hyperrealist sculpture offers a way to question this immersion of humanity in an era where the boundaries between real and virtual are increasingly blurred under increasing pressure from social networksand advances in biotechnology.

The reliability of our perceptions is particularly abused in the work of the Swiss duo Glaser / Kunz, which gives life to strange sculptures through video projections. Their cinematographic sculpture Jonathan (2009), endowed with speech and face animated by a projection, seems more real than life.


Ave Maria, three arms stretched towards the sky, in a sadly evocative position, participates in the criticism of the religious powers that operate Maurizio Cattelan, of which we know the famous sculpture of the late Pope John Paul II struck down by a meteorite ( La Nona Ora ). Follower of provocation, the Italian artist (born in 1960) resorts to the hyperrealism of the human figure in a humorous vein and squeaky. As Franklin Hill Perell points out in the exhibition catalog, surrealist and Dadaist elements have been present in hyperrealism since its inception, and this trend has increased over time. Deformations and fragmentations of the body are found in a spirit sometimes similar to that of a Bellmer or a Magritte, and this, often, with a conceptual dimension. When the British pop artist Allen Jones created his Table and coat rack series (1969), women reduced to objects illustrate clichés of the consumer society, with a certain sarcasm. The provocative nature of this work unleashed the anger of many feminist groups.


Ron Mueck made himself known by hyperrealist sculptures in silicone, fiberglass, resin, and acrylic, which create a certain discomfort in the visitor. Loving playing with scale changes, like when he produces a newborn baby measuring 5 meters in length, his goal is not only to reproduce reality. Undersized or oversized, his sculptures create a certain distancing and thus lead us to question our relationship to reality. The use of timeless existential themes linked to the life cycle, such as birth, illness, death, puts us to the test of our deepest anxieties. Mueck belongs to a whole generation of hyperrealist sculptors (like Marc Sijan or Sam Jinks) who emerged in the 1990s, after refluxing of realistic representations of the body in the 1980s. Many use silicone and polyurethane, but do not often use more to direct molding. These artists,


Emblematic of the production of John De Andrea, another major player in hyperrealism, Ariel I, devoid of all modesty, displays her nudity. The illusion of the epidermis is meticulously rendered. The choice of nudity allows its author to abstract his subject from any social context. The position also refers to the great ancient sculpture. Although he escapes any temptation to idealize, De Andrea is, in this sense, more classic than Duane Hanson. Pop artists also participated in bringing the female nude back to the forefront of the art scene by mimicking the clichés of a growing consumerist society. Still, in De Andrea, the relationship with the body is more natural. Hyperrealist sculpture can be linked to the great history of sculpture, which, from Antiquity, aims to represent the body in a very realistic way.


Emerging from the water, her eyes still closed, her body dressed in a bathing suit and her skin strewn with droplets, Catalina joins the pool of swimmers that Carole A. Feuerman has enjoyed carving for many years. Less known than her male colleagues, Carole A. Feuerman, is nevertheless one of the historical artists of hyperrealism. Following the example of George Segal, who was the first to introduce characters created from casts, like Hanson and De Andrea, she produced her works from casts of living models. These three artists all use innovative techniques and materials such as epoxy resins and fiberglass to reproduce the human body in every detail. After the sculpture stage itself, the final application of painstakingly applied layers of paint greatly contributes to the final result. Each work requires thousands of hours of work to create the perfect illusion of flesh.

Le Journal des Arts

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