A blog by staff and others about the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Art, or art handler?
I was once duped by a Hanson. A group of students were packed into the foyer of the Lewis house, waiting to get a tour. While wedged, my eyes flittered about wildly, scanning the art-crammed architecture, bouncing from work to work, from face to elated face of fellow students bearing art-shot expressions of awe. I hesitated as the last few students filed out for the tour. Had I missed anything? A solitary figure in the periphery remained motionless. The group partially cleared and I became aware of a worker in uniform, awaiting a package, on the ready with a hand truck. When the foyer emptied completely, (ha!) it was sculpture.
Hanson’s sculptures combine strategies of Greek figurative tradition with Pop concerns from the more recent history of art. There’s also a social realist’s agenda going on in the look on the faces peering out from behind the uniforms. Ancient Greek artisans used tactics of realism like surface coating sculptures with polychrome skins and garnishing them with real clothing. Updated with a postmodern lunchbox of readymade Coke and Lay’s, Hanson’s “Hard Hat Construction Worker” has been an apt mascot for VMFA during its expansion phase website construction, not only for its connection to such sculptural strategies of various eras, but for its popular appeal and the irony of its uniform.
Depicted “on break,” spaced out and wearied by menial labors, the face of the Hard Hat figure, like the faces on the figures of other Hanson works of the same period, is imbued with a pathos of exhaustion to engage viewers on an emotional level. I felt anything but exhaustion, camera in hand, making my way back from a tour of the VMFA’s expansion wing the day this photo was shot. I was exuberant; intoxicated by the thought that all the art I had helped tuck deep into storage would finally be making its way to new and fantastic spaces, to be seen again.
It is a lot of work, putting VMFA back together again.
- Justin Brown has, by virtue of his current employment as an art handler by VMFA, been granted permission to touch. He enjoys each workday for its “hand’s on” opportunity to experience the VMFA’s collection.
(Image: "Hard Hat Construction Worker" is a 20th century sculpture by Duane Hanson. Gift of The Sydney and Frances Lewis Foundation.)