While everybody is looking for the perfect outfit, while children are only thinking about stealing candies from their neighbors, while storekeepers are asking themselves how to decorate their stores this year, don’t forget that humor, dressing-up, jokes and self-derision are also extremely present in contemporary art. How many of us have already faced Duane Hanson’s sculptures and laughed at their mistake? How many of us have been lost in Fabien Verschaere’s fantastical paintings? How many of us have been scared by Cindy Sherman’s clowns? How many of us have desired to play with Maurizio Cattelan’s mobiles? However behind these works that are funny, easily understandable at first, playful, darker preoccupations are often hide.
Duane Hanson, an American-born Sculptor (1925-1996), created hyper-realistic lifecast of people made out of resin, polyester, bronze, fiberglass and often textiles, clothes and everyday life items. Most often sculptures are the exact representation of ordinary people who don’t stand out of the crowd and are placed in everyday life situations. Who haven’t spoke to the sculptures at least once?! Who haven’t ever run into one of them in a museum or during an exhibition? And one laughed of itself when the mistake is realized. However Duane’s goal is to put the emphasis on social problems and preoccupations. His sculptures usually represent a girl next door, a neighbor or a co-worker such the character of some of his most well known pieces: Bowery Relicts (1969); Supermarket Lady (1969); Florida Shopper (1973); Cleaning Lady (1972). They are touching, fragile and give off sensibility and feelings. Subjects, who are from the American middle class, are represented respectfully, simply and realistically. Their hopes, doubts, needs are discernible as like their resignation.
The dreamlike, magical and fantastical world of Fabien Verschaere, a French-born artist (1975), has his mysterious part, his dark side too. One’s getting lost into the marvelous world of his paintings and through the fairy tales and symbols that inspire him. His black and white (for the most part) paintings are filled up with clowns, dwarfs, fairies, devils, ghosts, Chimeras half demoniac – half fantastical. Associated to playing cards or dices those figures are as many symbols that mean that life is nothing but gambling, a perpetual fight between the world of living and the world of dead. His work is sensitive, intimate and very personal. He brings the viewer into his own world where fairies, mermaids, devils, clowns, goblins, pixies… live all together, a world based on its own paradoxes. At first funny and readable, his paintings reveal a multitude of details and references that do their reading more complex such as: Video Games (2009), Fake Legend (2009) and Novel of Life (2009).
If Verschaere’s clowns can be disturbing, Cindy Sherman’s ones are clearly frightening and scary!! She’s an American-born artist who is known for being the mother of the post-modern photography. Through her self-portraits, which have to be seen as conceptual pieces, she questions the role attributed to the women in our society and criticizes in an acerbic way the middle age housewife of the sixties and seventies. The Clowns (2003-2004) series can be read as an answer to the attacks of 2001. Therefore her point would be to keep smiling whatever happens and still thinking about what can be next. Sherman’s clowns don’t seem to be nice and joyful. They seem to wear a mask, a mask of a hypocritical and individualistic society. Viewers don’t know anymore if they should laugh, cry or question themselves. Should one appreciate her photographs just the way they are or should one try to read between the lines?
Satire is also very popular among contemporary artists and Maurizio Cattelan, an Italian-born artist (1960), is well known for his satirical, caustic and biting sculptures such as The Ninth Hour (1999) which depicting the Pope Jean-Paul II struck down by a meteorite. His sculptures are shocking, paradoxical, humorous and ironical and his work is made of performances, provocations and embezzlement. Untitled (2001) simply represents a whole on the ground from where a little man comes from. One doesn’t pay attention at the first sight however it questions the viewer who doesn’t know what to make of it. This sculpture actually represents the artist himself while he’s breaking the museum as a criminal making an assault on a private and historical institution.
These artists, in their own way, chose to express their doubts, their questions, their rants… through some funny and humorous works that are also ironic and caustic in the mean time.