Art and Philosophy

There Is No Outside-Text:
Andy Warhol and Duane Hanson’s Answers to
Simulacra Strategies

Eric Yoon | June 27, 2018

In the past, one of the texts for reading world, art, was considered a mirror of reality. People looked into this text, attempting to understand the real world. However, as French philosopher Jacques Derrida insisted, people cannot see anything outside text in today’s world anymore where manufactured images and falsified facts, produced by a mass media, perpetually blur the distinction between reality and fake. While Andy Warhol and many hyperrealism artists simply accepted the end of art as a medium of reading reality in modern society, Duane Hanson bravely challenged this notion through his works. Hanson’s sculptures suggest that artists can use simulacrum strategy to raise social concerns; thus, artists can revive art as a text of understanding reality once again.

Before comparing Duane Hanson with Andy Warhol, it is important to understand the philosophical trend of the period when both artists worked. From Jacques Derrida to Jean Baudrillard, many postmodern philosophers as well as sociologists started to take part in a deconstructionist movement, striving for demolishing a firm metaphysical ground of traditional western philosophy. They thought that an importance of originality and a study of origin of which are the guidelines of the western philosophy lost its firm intellectual ground since neither of us can trace the originality nor can we be totally free from unconscious imitations of others in today’s world. Not only these philosophers but also mass public felt emptiness from the world of perpetual blurriness. Most of the hyperrealism artists as well as Andy Warhol reflected this social phenomenon into their art works by assuming that if endless imitations in modern society erased the distinction between reality and imitation, an imitation so called simulacrum, can become another reality. The artistic idolization of superficiality in postmodern society was popular movement among many pop artists as well as hyperrealism artists.

Duane Hanson, Primary Old Man Playing Solitaire, 1973, Polyester resin and fiberglass polychromed in oil with mixed media and accessories, 127 x 88.9 x 139.7 cm. The Lunder Collection. Art © Estate of Duane Hanson/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

In this philosophical environment, Warhol and Duane Hanson had many similarities such as creating artworks based on a notion of simulacrum. When Hanson made his Old Man Playing Solitaire, he firstly casted this old man’s entire body with polyester resin. Then the artist applied hyper-realistic painting on this imitation of the old man’s real body, copying details of the subject. Just as Hanson developed his artistic simulacra, Andy Warhol also created his works as simulacra. The most representative art piece of him, Marilyn, was a copy of Monroe’s photograph, which is technically an imitation of the imitated subject. Even though both artists’ approaches toward descriptions of modern society are based on using a simulacrum effect and following a doctrine of Dadaism, they included completely opposite philosophical ideas in their respective simulacra, reacting to Derrida’s argument in two different ways.

While Duane Hanson created simulacrum by following trends of technological and social transformations, he still believed a potential of simulacrum playing as a medium of showing reality just as the art had done in the past. According to Baudrillard, Andy Warhol’s “Transaesthetic” requires postmodern society to accept imitation and falsified truth as a part of reality. In this state of world, where artists like Warhol succumbed to the fabricated reality from the point of a traditional moral ethics, Duane Hanson tried to revive the art’s original role as a text to understand the world by paradoxically using simulacrum, the symbol of blurry and confusing postmodern society, as a conduit to express a possibility that it can show a truth and reality of today’s confusing society.

Duane Hanson solo exhibition, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (2 June – 13 September 2015)
Image © Luke Hayes / Serpentine Galleries, London

For instance, through creating Old Man Playing Solitaire, Duane Hanson showed solitude of Americans who lost their own identities and originality from an illusion that existed in American society, as well as from the world of simulacrum, which confused them in identifying reality from the misleading truth. Just as Baudrillard wrote in his essay, America, “America is neither dream nor reality. It is a hyperreality. It is a hyperreality because it is a utopia which has behaved from the very beginning as though it were already achieved,” Duane Hanson criticized American society through Old Man Playing Solitaire, that it forced Americans to be lost in overflowing simulacra of the American dream which were manufactured by mass media. Duane Hanson’s strategy in his artworks, producing his work as simulacrum, represents his paradoxical approach to a method of criticism on postmodern society that we can still show truth and reality even through a simulacrum.

Even though Hanson seems to be just one of many hyperrealist artists who jumped on the bandwagon of postmodern trend, it was his well-conceived strategy to criticize the world of simulacrum with simulacrums. Old Man Playing Solitaire was one of his powerful weapons to revolt against an artistic trend, succumbing to superficiality and giving up a role of art as a window of reality. By criticizing a way of today’s life that made people fatigued and felt empty through emphasizing loneliness of old man, he protested that something went wrong with our society in traditional sense. Not only through this work but also through many other works such as War, he insisted that we should not stop bringing up truth of reality in art even though we live in the hyperrealistic world where reality and illusion are indistinguishable.

Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup Cans, (detail), 1962, Synthetic polymer paint on 32 canvases, each 20" x 16" (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
copyright on the artist / courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

A distinct difference of Old Man Playing Solitaire and other works of Duane Hanson from other hyperrealistic arts is that figures are wearing authentic factory manufactured clothes, which stand for the mass production of today’s highly industrialized society. These mass produced outfits ultimately get rid of identities of individuals, indirectly making them unoriginal, so that the entire society becomes Warhol’s famous Campbell Soup. Even though Duane Hanson can describe outfits and bodies of figures through a traditional sculpting, he put authentic clothes on figures to make his works more real than any other hyperrealistic arts. By taking this strategy, he could effectively maximize his simulacra’s realistic sense more than those of other hyperrealists and Warhol could achieve. This smart strategy made his artistic attempt more convincing than that of others.

Many people simply tend to overlook Duane Hanson’s artworks as mere artistic works, containing artists’ sense of humors. His attempt, reflected in his sculptures, however, represents how deeply he understood today’s society, and how much he cared about it from a traditional sense of morality. Unlike Warhol who simply complied with the Derrida’s evaluation on today’s society, Duane Hanson consistently insisted that art should be a lighthouse of human society as it always had been in human history. He was just like a last humanistic artist in a world of Washoski’s movie, Matrix.


1. Massumi, Brian. Realer than Real: The Simulacrum According to Deleuze and Guattari. http://www.anu.edu.au/hrc/first_and_last/works/realer.htm retrieved 1 April 2015
2. Jin, Joong Gwon, Mihak Odyssey 3 Gwon [Aesthetics Odyssey Volume 3], Humanist, (March 22, 2004), p. 333
3. Derrida, Jacques, Of Grammatology, JHU Press, (Jan 8, 1998), p. 158
4. Brendan Sweetman, Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy, Catholic University of American Press, (1997), p. 230
5. Varnedoe, Kirk, Duane Hanson, Harry N. Abrams. Inc. Publishers, (1985: New York), pp. 37-41
6. Jin, Joong Gwon, Mihak Odyssey 3 Gwon [Aesthetics Odyssey Volume 3], Humanist, (March 22, 2004), p. 328
7. Jin, Joong Gwon Essay of Art: Surrealism and Hyperrealism, Yesuleuijeondang, (June, 2004), p. 1
8. Hobbs, Robert, Duane Hanson/The New Objectivity, Florida State Univerity Gallery & Museum, (1991), p. 26
9. Jean Baudrillard, America, London and New York, 1996; first published in French in 1986, p. 28
10. Varnedoe, Kirk, Duane Hanson, Harry N. Abrams. Inc. Publishers, (1985: New York), p. 10

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