Duane Hanson, Executive, originally titled, Another Day

Duane Hanson, Executive, originally titled, Another Day, 1971, polyester resin and fiberglass, oil paint, mixed media with accessories, life size (Toledo Museum of Art, ©estate of the artist)

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Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:06] We’ve walked into one of the galleries in the Toledo Museum of Art, and there’s a man slumped in the corner on a chair.

Dr. Halona Norton-Westbrook: [0:13] There are not many works of art in the museum that are so frequently mistaken for being alive as this sculpture by Duane Hanson.

Dr. Zucker: [0:21] It’s called “Executive,” and it dates to 1971, but I probably didn’t have to say the date because all you have to do is look at his tie.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [0:30] The color of the clothing, the style, the cut, all captures the essence of the 1970s. There’s a particular combination of brown and yellow on the tie that scream of that era.

Dr. Zucker: [0:42] Not to mention his attaché case. What’s interesting is that the attaché case is worn. It’s got nicks. This is not pristine, and he’s not pristine. He looks exhausted. The title is “Executive,” and you get a sense that he’s in a relatively high position in a company because he’s wearing a vest, he’s wearing a nice suit.

[0:00] But he seems to have been worn down, not just by the day, but maybe by his life.

Dr. Halona Norton-Westbrook: [1:09] A sense of tiredness pervades the outfit, his posture, the lines and etchings on his face, his downward-cast glance.

Dr. Zucker: [1:17] He’s lost in his own thoughts. The artist has captured that with this remarkable fidelity. The treatment of the skin, of the face, of the hands, is uncanny. Duane Hanson was able to achieve this because he was casting from life, but also because of the extraordinary delicacy of his paintbrush on the fiberglass and the resin that looks here so much like skin.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [1:42] What you see is something that speaks so deeply to the human experience, to the tiredness that one might feel in mid-life from working hard, from having burdens on their shoulders. It’s the story in a way of every person, but also this very particular moment in history.

Dr. Zucker: [1:59] When we think of 1971, we think of the counterculture. We think of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War. We might be thinking of Woodstock, which had only recently taken place.

[2:08] Through the 1950s and into the ’60s, in the years after the Second World War, there was the rise of what came to be known as the Organization Man. This is a man who devoted his life to his company.

[2:23] The 1960s opened up a questioning of that, and by the time we get to the 1970s, the questioning of the ’60s had turned into a kind of disillusionment with middle-class life and focusing on one’s professional life.

Dr. Halona Norton-Westbrook: [2:33] This is a middle-aged man, presumably that would mean that this person’s career started or was blossoming in the 1950s. That idea that there could be the white middle-class man as the hero of the traditional family unit and that the traditional family unit would carry on for future generations unquestioned.

[2:51] That idea had been exploded by the 1960s, and even if you weren’t a person actively exploding it, you were in the aftermath of that.

Dr. Zucker: [3:03] By the early 1970s, not only were there demonstrations against the war, women were demanding their rights. Divorce rates were skyrocketing. The stability that this man had known in the 1950s and even through most of the 1960s was gone.

[3:13] Here we are talking about this constellation of social events that we can easily construct around this single figure. The artist has been able to create a kind of archetype that allows us to understand the world in which he would have existed.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [3:27] Earlier in his career, Duane Hanson was more interested in group narrative sculptures. By this point in his career, he had moved toward single figures, and these figures encapsulated a narrative.

[3:44] And I think that he realized that it only took one person to tell the story of themselves, the story of the time, and the story of the world, and that’s what you see in this sculpture.

Dr. Zucker: [3:48] But this sculpture is a little bit unusual for Duane Hanson because it was actually a commission.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [3:53] The executive is a gentleman named Melvin Kaufman, who was a businessman in New York. This would’ve resided in the lobby of a major office building in New York City.

Dr. Zucker: [4:09] Imagine coming into that lobby, not in a museum context, not expecting to see art, and seeing this exhausted executive sitting there for just a little bit too long and then realizing he’s not real.

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Cite this page as: Dr. Halona Norton-Westbrook, Toledo Museum of Art and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Duane Hanson, Executive, originally titled, Another Day," in Smarthistory, April 7, 2019, accessed July 13, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/hanson-executive/.