In Nantes, hyperrealist sculpture becomes “hypersensitive”

“Flea Market Lady” (1990), by Duane Hanson.

So what is happening with hyperrealist sculpture this year in France, even though this form of art has so far been very little exhibited there? Three exhibitions have followed one another since the beginning of 2023: after “Hyperrealism. This is not a body”, which ended at the beginning of March at the Maillol Museum, in Paris, “Hypersensitive. A look at hyperrealist sculpture” opened in early April at the Nantes Museum of Arts, while the Cartier Foundation in Paris will devote its summer exhibition to British sculptor Ron Mueck, a specialist in the genre, from June 8. .

“When we launched the idea of ​​an exhibition on this subject, more than two years ago, we knew that an exhibition was in preparation in Belgium, but we did not know that it was also going to travel to France”, explains Sophie Lévy, curator of the Nantes Museum of Arts, referring to the exhibition at the Maillol Museum. On the Nantes side, one of the triggers was the fact that the institution has, in its collections, something unique in France, an installation by the American Duane Hanson (1925-1996), the pioneer of the genre: Flea Market Lady (1990), a seated woman selling a bric-a-brac of paintings on the floor, scale 1.

In 2018, the work traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for an exhibition on sculptures imitating reality since antiquity. On this occasion, the director had been struck by the silence and the fascination of the visitors. Here too, the exhibition, which deploys forty pieces of a wide technical variety (resin, fiberglass, silicone, bronze, porcelain or painted sandstone, etc.) in the vast central patio of the museum, can be visited in a spontaneously cozy atmosphere, despite the large number of visitors.

Strangeness of mimicry

“With Katell Jaffrès, the curator, we wondered why, between the appearance of hyperrealism in the 1960s, in the United States, in a context of social and political transformation and crisis, and a resurgence at the turn of the XXIe century, there had been a hole from the 1970s until the 1990s, says Sophie Lévy. It reappeared after decades dominated by abstraction, with an uncompromising return to the representation of women, men and everyday objects. »

When the exhibition shown at Maillol detailed the major typologies of the genre (nudes, political messages, etc.), the Nantes exhibition became more philosophical, as if to echo the hypersensitivity expressed by the works. Far from being exhaustive, the productions of only eleven international artists (including two French, Gilles Barbier and Daniel Firman) from the two generations of artists, whose practice is exclusively hyperrealist, are presented. The focus is on the human body, with the exception of Tony Matelli’s wild plants, which seem to grow from imaginary interstices, and bring a little reverse shot to this vaguely oppressive crowd of bodies.

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