Kids & art
The RN&R eavesdrops while families tour Duane Hanson: Virtual Reality at the Nevada Museum of Art
Alexa Snyder seemed a bit perplexed as she stared at the old couple on a bench just inside the Nevada Museum of Art foyer. Her mom and several others sat to the couple’s right, but she was fixated on the bored-looking older folks.
“They’re not real!” the 4-year-old exclaimed, clutching her Barbie doll in front of her as if it were some form of security blanket.
Alexa’s right, you know. The “Old Couple on a Bench” (1995) is actually a sculpture, part of Duane Hanson: Virtual Reality, on display through June 24 at the Nevada Museum of Art. And Alexa is ahead of the curve in some respects; these sculptures, some made of bondo and some made of bronze, are so realistic that many people, at first, don’t realize they aren’t actual people.
Alexa was there, along with 66 others on this Sunday afternoon, for the NMA’s hands/ON! Sunday family program. Marlean Bowling, the museum’s associate curator of education, was leading three tour groups today instead of the normal two groups at noon and 1 p.m., because of such high demand during the popular Hanson exhibit.
After introducing herself and explaining the presence of two writers from the RN&R, who, the crowd learns, are doing a story on kids and art, Marlean dove into the tour. She first explained the No. 1 rule at the museum: No touching the paintings or sculptures. She said this is especially important in Virtual Reality, as all of the sculptures but one have real clothes, which are aging.
As the throng approached the first sculpture inside the main exhibit area, “Man on a Lawnmower” (1995), a little boy instinctively waved at the overweight man. Soon, Solomon Rose, 3 1/2, stopped waving—and then started shouting.
“He doesn’t look real! He doesn’t look real!”
The woman who held the boy’s hand explained the apparent paradox between Solomon’s words and actions.
“I think he meant to say he looks real,” the woman said, “even though he knows he’s not.”
Soon, Solomon noticed the “House Painter” (1985) sculpture off to the left. “He’s painting the inside!” the excitable young boy exclaimed, noticing that the painter was committing a serious breach of museum etiquette by actually painting one of the walls.
Alexa was also a big fan of the house painter. She excitedly tried to get her mom, Lorinda, to look over at the painter, who was wearing white and covered in pink paint.
“It’s got pink,” Lorinda explained to me. “She came last week, and she was mesmerized. This week, we had to bring her dad.”
As if she were following the queue of Solomon and Alexa, Marlene asked the children what the differences are between the lawnmowing man and the house painter.
The answers came fast and furious. They have different hair colors. The lawnmower man is fatter than the painter. One young boy even mentioned that they have different skin colors—the lawnmower man is white, while the painter is black.
Political correctness be damned!
Marlean finally got the answer she was looking for: The man on the lawnmower has sculpted clothing and hair, while the housepainter’s garb and hair are real. Marlean explained that “Man on a Lawnmower” is the only sculpture on display with bondo clothes and hair, as it was the only one meant to be displayed outdoors.
As Marlean discussed how realistic the man on the lawnmower looks with the crowd, 9-year-old Nick Batie pointed out that it indeed looks very realistic—except for the shoelaces, which looked too melded in with the shoes to be real.
The tour then walked past the painter and a doctor, “Medical Doctor” (1994), toward the most political of the sculptures on display, “Chinese Student” (1989-90). Apparently, Claudia Lester thought the doctor needed to feel some love, considering that most of the rest of the tour passed him.
“Hey, Mister Doctor!” said the pink-clad 7-year-old.
Claudia caught up with the rest of the group as Marlean explained how Hanson’s artworks are made up of more than just the sculpture itself. In the case of “Chinese Student,” she pointed out that the black bicycle, the ratty red blanket and the sign all are just as important to the piece as the sculpture is.
Claudia was quite impressed with the work.
“I think it’s great,” Lester said in a brief, yet exclusive interview with the RN&R. “It looks so real, and the bike looks real, too.”
Good eye, Claudia. The bike is real.
The group then moved to one of the exhibit’s more interesting works: “Self-Portrait With Model” (1979). It depicts an older woman sitting at a table reading a magazine, with the remnants of an ice cream sundae pushed away from her. She seems oblivious to the presence of Hanson, who is sitting across from her, studying her intently.
“He looks like Jerry Reed,” said Susan Calhoun as she clutched her year-old son, Gavin. (At first, I thought she said Harry Reid, which was perplexing, seeing as Hanson bears no resemblance to Nevada’s senior senator. However, after doing some research, I can see that Hanson does look a bit like the famous country crooner.)
Speaking over a spirited debate between Solomon and another boy about who was taller, Marlean asked the kids what they thought was going on in “Self-Portrait With Model.” The answer she was looking for: Hanson is watching the woman as she reads. However, the kids have some even more perceptive answers.
“They’re eating lunch!” one boy said.
But Nick disagreed.
“It might be that lunch is over, because there’s an ice cream dish there,” he said. “Maybe they just came in for a snack.”
Marlean, impressed by the perceptiveness of the comment, complimented Nick before explaining that Hanson is really examining the oblivious woman.
“That’s what he would do,” Marlean said. “He studied them. He really checked them out.”
Finally, the tour moved on to “Queenie II” (1988), which served as the end point for two of the three hands/ON! tours on this day. Marlean related that of all the sculptures, Queenie was the staff favorite, because the sculpted cleaning woman watched them as they installed an exhibit in the adjacent room that Queenie faces.
She also told the group about an incident that Queenie found herself involved in on the night before the exhibit’s opening. Apparently, after a false fire alarm went off at the Nevada Museum of Art, a group of firefighters wandered in through the museum’s rear office entrance—just off of the floor where Queenie stands.
Needless to say, the firefighters were surprised to see the museum’s cleaning woman standing there calmly as the alarm went off.
“They couldn’t figure out why no one was reacting,” Marlean said.
As Marlean explained to the crowd how Hanson made Queenie from two models—he used the body of one woman and the head of another—Gabrielle Rose, 9, made an observation.
“She looks like someone I saw in a hotel room!” she said. Marlean acknowledged that Queenie could very well be doing such a job.
Marlean then told how Hanson made all the sculptures; one of the things Hanson did was made casts from actual people. She asks the kids if they had ever worn a cast. In one group, nobody raised their hands, but in another, about six kids did. One of them was Alana Beale, 4.
This was news to Alana’s mom, however, as she looked at her daughter with a perplexed gaze.
For the final group of the day, Marlean extended the tour past Queenie and on to the room that houses sculptures including “Beagle in Basket” (1989). She shocked some in the crowd by saying that Hanson was able to do the beagle sculpture by making a cast of the dog—after it had died.
“His children and grandchildren weren’t too happy with him,” Marlean said.
As Marlean took some of the kids on to participate in the day’s art project, which was to make clay pots, some parents and children checked out the rest of the exhibit.
Morgan McEwan, 7, stayed close to her mom, Cindy, while checking out “Fancy Dude Cowboy (Slim)” (1986), the rugged cowboy with the perplexing flowery shirt leaning against the corner wall.
“Amazing,” Morgan sighed. “These guys are freaking me out.”
Cindy and her husband, Craig, moved Morgan and Katie, 10, along to the most complex of the works: “Lunch Break (Three Workers With Scaffold)” (1989).
I asked Katie and Morgan what they thought. They proved to be extremely shy.
“They think that they’re gonna move. I know that,” Cindy explained. “They really are well done.”
They weren’t the only ones freaked out. Shane Welch, 7, actually ran in terror from “Old Woman in Folding Chair” (1976), who looks very aged and solemn despite her brightly colored dress.
“That’s really scary,” he said. “The grandma really freaks me out.”
Meanwhile, Ashley O’Daniel and Rachael Welch, both 9, stood completely frozen near “High School Student” (1990). When they weren’t imitating sculptures and trying to trick other museum patrons, they were running around excitedly.
“When I first walked in, I thought, ‘What is the policeman guarding?'” Rachael said, referring to “Policeman” (1994), which stares at the front door of the museum. “And the people on the bench, I thought they were people relaxing.”
Ashley was equally impressed with all of the works.
“These are really cool,” she said as she stood next to a sculpture of a smiling businesswoman, “Mary Weisman (Mother of Frederick R. Weisman)” (1994). “They are really neat.”
Willie Wulftange, 8, had a very mixed opinion of the sculptures. “Some of them look real, and some of them look fake,” he said. “The police guy tricked me.”
Anna Solano contributed to this story.