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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 27 - Waxing lyrical over generous heart of States

ONE evening, a decade ago, when visiting Washington, in the United States, I saw a red carpet being laid at the entrance to Union Station which was to be visited by the Queen that night.

As a reporter who had covered many royal visits and knew about such things, I helpfully suggested to a brace of black female police officers that while the carpetís appearance and dimensions seemed of monarchic proportions, I had doubts about whether it was sufficiently sumptuous for the regal tread.

My arresting statement. made the coppers sag in simulated shock. One laughingly asked: "Brother, would you like to try it?" I nodded authoritatively and together, arms linked and to bystandersí cheers, we walked the royal route which I duly pronounced fit for the queenly spoor. It is thus that international fraternity is maintained.

Among the watchers were hard-hatted, iron-muscled, building workers, lumpen office staff along with an amorphous coagulation of adiposal and varicosal-veined citizens, broken down, as in government statistics, by age and sex.

I mention this episode because I saw, in an uncannily-realistic celebration of the less flattering aspects of the national physiognomy, what seemed a collection of old friends, including ones like the station specta-tors and other representatives of citizenry that I had sat beside in subways, dined with in delis, talked to in New Yorkís Central Park, watched working on scaffolding and seen sagging with the baggage of old age and decrepitude at bus and railway stations.

There they were - at the Duane Hanson Sculptures of Life exhibition which opened last week at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, in Edinburgh*. The instant effect of the works by the American sculptor (1925-96) is to make one believe that each exhibit will stir, will seem to feel, the thrill of life along its keel. Already one visitor is reported to have asked a statue in lounging posture against a corridor wall when the exhibition would open.

The warts and all, cellulite, vaccination marks, wrinkles, acutely-observed sartorial realism and accompanying detritus of life recall a film I saw entitled The Mystery of the Wax Museum in which its owner had the ingenious money-and-labour-saving brainwave of pouring melted wax onto victims - especially women he fancied and other people who talked to him out of turn - so that later they would show up, tidily sculpted, on museum plinths.

Hanson moulded subjects safely from life, using materials including bronze, polyester, oil and resin, to create sometimes socio-political displays but also works in a lighter vein, showing, mainly, the American working-class at work, rest, recreation and in richly-chromatic plu-mage, undergoing vacations with facial expressions probably indicating: "Not another basilica, not another shard of Etruscan pottery."

Like the song-and-dance number in the film, West Side Story , "I like to be in America. OK by me in America", Hansonís subjects sometimes offer a sardonic commentary on the land of the free and the uneasy. Workmen, pol-ice, a woman derelict, housewives shoving shopping trolleys like leaf-bearing ants, the flea market lady and the delivery man appear introspective as if knowing that in a country un-swervingly obeying national, spiritual and philosophical imperatives in winning wars, lucrative business deals, the girl next door, the best possible alimony and dominating the planet economically and militarily, they are either lifeís losers or, at most, stoic battlers against fate.

They curiously resemble subjects of the American illustrator, the late Norman Rockwell, emerged into seeming reality but without his corny as Kansas in August sentimentality.

They are of the class that formed the bulk of troops who fought in Vietnam, and will do so for Uncle Samís forces if bellicose but non-combatant-courageous Bush and Blair launch another Gulf war.

My favourite exhibit is Rita the Waitress, who despite probable fallen arches and recurring lower back ache, is ready to answer the great call for prompt service and sustenance - essentially what the demanding, developing world wants from America.

I would take her plastic tray and dishcloth and raise them as high as a flag on the Fourth of July as a tribute to the great, generous heart of small-time America and as a tribute to a visually-impactive and thought-provoking exhibition for which I would unhesitatingly roll out a rich, red carpet.

*Sponsored by the Edinburgh commercial law firm of Brodies, the exhibition ends on 23 February.

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