To see ‘Vendor with Walkman’, at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport’s departure terminal is to partake of the kind of art that the pros call mimetic realism and the layperson would simply describe as intensely lifelike. A rather lumpy young American in baseball cap and sneakers, his orange T-shirt straining to cover the expanse of his stomach, sits on a chair listening to a Walkman, surrounded by elements of his work life – a toy airplane he will sell; janitorial supplies to clean the shop before it opens. You can imagine talking to the man, who might be called Scott, Tim, Hank, Mike, or some such. If he were not enclosed, someone might put an arm around his shoulders. He looks like he likes a beer or two and burgers and fries. Broward County, Florida, commissioned the bronze sculpture from the late Duane Hanson, who specialized in capturing and rendering hyper-reality. It was installed in 1990.
Those of an inquiring bent might wonder about the point of it all. Does there have to be? ‘Vendor with Walkman’ captures a slice of America at a particular moment of time and remains timeless in its essence. So too ‘The Janitor’. I well remember my double take when I sidled up to the sombre man who leaned against the wall in the Milwaukee Art Museum, never dreaming he was made of polyester and fibreglass.
As has been said before, hyper-realism can be both breathtaking and boring, but always a little like a magician’s conjuring trick, declining to make obvious its deepest truths, leaving us to decipher them if we can. If we need to.