Get real

Just so you know, the opinion that follows is not a popular one in the art world. The summer show title at Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, Spain -- “Hyperrealist Sculpture” – can have you think that the 35 exhibit examples are extra real looking, but they’re not. If anything, these sculptures, all of the human form, are more illusory than real. That’s because they’re so precisely rendered that they bring to mind holograms or high-resolution photographs in three dimensions.

The real deal

In fact, that’s how hyperrealist painters go about their work. They copy what a camera captures rather than what the human eye can take in. #Art is many things, but for painting or sculpture to be art, it needs a point of view, some emphasis that tells us what the artist cares about and what he wants us to care about. In the case of the Bilbao show, whatever else hyperrealist sculpture is, it’s not art. Even-handed to a fault, it’s too neutral, too clinical, too indifferent to be art. What’s more, that very lack of subjectivity risks coming across as nothing more than mindless, skin-deep irrelevancies. And in that sense, it seems fair to say that hyperrealism, which began in the U.S. in the sixties, is as sterile as Minimalism (which also is a vestige of the sixties).

Keeping it real

One of the exhibiting artists is John Deandrea, who fabricates with polyvinyl and latex literal replicas of nude young women cast from live models, complete with skin imperfections and implants of real hair for the head, eyebrows and pubic area. Fellow hyperrealist sculptor Duane Hanson, whose work is also in the Bilbao show, does the same thing, except he dresses his figures with actual clothes.

Real gone

Like Deandrea, Hanson uses life casts, a method that dates back to old Roman portrait busts made from life masks. But when it comes to the hyperrealist sculpture of artists like Deandrea and Hanson, what you get are vacuous replicas as if cast from inanimate objects. Their appeal may be the dazzling skill of these artists to imitate life. But as that impression wears off, and it surely will, what you’re left with are just skin-deep irrelevancies that are so non-committal that they appear no better than department store manikins.

The real McCoy

The museum divided the “Hyperrealist Sculpture” show into five self-explanatory sections: "Human replicas"; "Monochrome sculptures"; "Body parts"; "Playing with size"; and "Deformed realities." Deandrea and Hanson are showing in the “Human Replicas” section. In the one marked “monochrome sculptures” stands the work of George Segal who doesn’t belong in this show. Segal is long known as a Pop artist of life-size figures. And while he uses body casts, his are made of orthopedic plaster, which he leaves un-sanded and medical white. Clearly Segal’s figures don’t try to imitate life. Just the opposite. They conjure up ghosts. One more thing. There’s nothing hyper about hyperrealism because it lacks energy or life of any kind.     #Buzz