Inside Van Hanos’s Journey from Art World Outsider to the Toast of Chelsea
Van Hanos, Kyra’s Party, 2021. © Van Hanos. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
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Late last Wednesday night, amid one of New York City’s famous summer thunderstorms, about 300 of the art world’s cognoscenti lined up outside the Bowery Hotel, impatiently waiting to be granted access to the exclusive party raging inside the Lower East Side hotspot. Drenched from the pouring rain, these well-heeled insiders risked their expensive blowouts and designer sneakers to fête a pair of artists who had just held back-to-back openings at the blue-chip Lisson Gallery earlier in the evening.
One of those two artists was Van Hanos. If that name doesn’t sound familiar to you, fret not because you aren’t alone. At 41, Hanos has managed to fly mostly under the radar since earning his MFA from Columbia University in 2010. Only two of his works have ever been offered at auction (both in day sales at Phillips), and demand for his work on Artsy has been minimal over the last four years. And yet Hanos’s winding and at times peripatetic path from art world outsider to the toast of Chelsea is emblematic of today’s rapidly shifting art market. More and more, it’s increasingly common for young and emerging artists to be represented by established, influential galleries, and a tight-knit group of well-connected insiders can often do more to help burnish a talented painter’s reputation and career than the gatekeepers of the past.
Van Hanos, May 7, 2020, 2021. © Van Hanos. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Portrait of Van Hanos by Katy Grannan, 2005. © Van Hanos. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Born in New Jersey, Hanos’s artistic style and approach to painting can perhaps best be summed up as lacking any consistent style whatsoever. With no formal mode or clearly identifiable signature to speak of, Hanos’s practice ranges from landscape to portraiture, from figuration to abstraction. The only unifying thread tying his various paintings together is their ability to draw the viewer to look ever closer—what one first experiences when looking at any of his paintings will undoubtedly shift and morph upon continued investigation.
In a 2015 interview with Flash Art, Hanos described how he first taught himself to draw by copying photographs. “It left me with a range of ability but not much of a style or interest in choosing one,” he explained. Rather than depicting a singular image in his work, he paints fractured moments colliding. He sees the combined effect as leading to a more realistic depiction as he probes the space between what the mind overtly perceives and what it unconsciously absorbs.
Van Hanos, Reflective Light, 2021. © Van Hanos. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Hanos’s conceptual yet highly technical style captivated Olivia Barrett, the proprietor of the über-chic gallery Château Shatto in Los Angeles. Originally introduced to his work via a colleague in New York in late 2015, Barrett took the opportunity to visit Hanos at his then-studio in Brooklyn (he now lives and works in Marfa, Texas) and the two hit it off instantly. From that initial studio visit, she proposed a solo show at her gallery in October 2017, the first slot on the calendar she had available. “I loved how he never expresses a satisfaction with any particular mode of working,” she told me. “His practice is really more of a constellation than it is a linear progression.”
While he had had solo shows at galleries like Rowhouse Project in Baltimore in 2016 and Parapet Real Humans in St. Louis the year after, Hanos’s first show at Château Shatto, “Late American Paintings,” was his first in a major U.S. cultural hub since his self-titled exhibition at the now-defunct West Street Gallery in New York in 2011, which was run by Alex Gartenfeld (now the artistic director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami).
View of Van Hanos’s studio, 2021. © Van Hanos. Photo by Mark Waldhauser. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
“Late American Paintings” opened at the tail end of the first year of the Trump presidency and was an immediate success with Barrett’s always-ahead-of-the-curve clients. Wrestling with the idea of “history painting” from the position that history itself is fractured, slippery, and open to interpretation, the show featured a selection of paintings priced between $15,000 and $25,000 that saw Hanos apply his technical proficiency to GIFs, cartoons, and 1990s-era iconography. According to Barrett, all of the paintings ended up selling (except one that Hanos opted to hold back for himself).
A few months later, in May 2018, Barrett took a selection of Hanos’s paintings with her to show in Château Shatto’s Frieze New York booth. There, Lisson Gallery’s executive director, Alex Logsdail, stumbled across the work and instantly fell in love. “I bought a few works and then became fairly obsessed,” he recalled. “It’s such a disparate and—in the best way possible—confusing practice that I just couldn’t resist.” The following year, he trekked to Marfa himself to broach the subject of potentially working together.
Van Hanos, Talia Chetrit carrying Roman, 2021. © Van Hanos. Courtesy Lisson Gallery.
Deciding to start off small and build momentum from there, last summer Lisson staged an intimate show of five Hanos works priced between $12,000 and $32,000 at its jewel-box space in East Hampton (where I first came across the work); the show ended up selling out despite the gallery’s clients being relatively unfamiliar with his work. Soon after the show closed, it was announced Hanos would officially join Lisson’s roster and would henceforth be represented by both Château Shatto and Lisson, with a major solo show in New York planned for the spring of 2021.
By the time you’re reading this, everything from Hanos’s new show at Lisson, “Conditional Bloom,” will likely have been sold. The show’s 19 paintings, all created in 2021, range from playful, enigmatic compositions to highly dense photorealistic paintings. One of the largest paintings in the show, May 7, 2020, depicts the moonlit, battered car from a serious accident Hanos experienced last spring. Another, Talia Chetrit Carrying Roman, features Talia Chetrit, a fellow artist and friend of Hanos who has been the subject of a number of his paintings in the past, lying reposed on a leopard-print fainting couch, pregnant with her first child. Other works in the show offer a shifting selection of subject matter, from eerie, disembodied faces and clapping hands, to the whimsical children’s book character Puss in Boots, to the vibrantly colored abstract painting X.
Van Hanos, Puss in boots, 2021. © Van Hanos. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
The show’s paintings look so different from one another that viewers could be forgiven for thinking they were produced by multiple artists. This was exactly the effect Hanos had been hoping to achieve during the planning stages of the show, Logsdail explained. “He called me up one morning saying he had a dream about the opening the night before,” the gallerist said. “He wanted people to walk in and think it was a group show.”
With prices said to be between $8,000 and $55,000, this latest show also represents a significant (though not exorbitant) bump in price for Hanos’s work. This is not entirely surprising now that Lisson—a blue-chip, globe-spanning gallery with spaces in New York, London, and Shanghai—has come on board to represent him. However, since Hanos often paints on petite 12-by-10-inch canvases, many of his works remain relatively affordable to most collectors.
Installation view of “Van Hanos: Conditional Bloom” at Lisson Gallery, New York, 2021. © Van Hanos. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Alex Glauber, an in-the-know, New York–based advisor whose clients have bought Hanos’s work in the past—including from the current show—explained how the partnership between the boutique Château Shatto and the far-reaching Lisson Gallery is perfectly suited to propel Hanos’s career going forward. “Olivia’s eye is amazing. And the fact that she represented Van gave me the initial confidence I needed to encourage my clients to look at the work,” he said. “And now, Lisson can bring its infrastructure to bear to help place Hanos’s work with museums, foundations, and institutional collectors around the world. They’re the perfect complements to each other.”
Of course, one of the primary challenges for collectors navigating the practice of any artist—let alone one whose work is as varied and heterogeneous as Hanos’s—is knowing which works among the many to buy. After all, a Warhol “Marilyn” is considered far more valuable than one of the Pop master’s flower paintings. When an artist’s practice is so variegated, it can be difficult for market consensus to consolidate around a clearly identifiable thread or series. However, a good place to start is Hanos’s “Candle Maker’s Lamp” series, which features the recurring motif of the titular contraption that he revisits every four years or so as part of a cyclical, lifelong project.
Van Hanos, Swan, 2021. © Van Hanos. Courtesy Lisson Gallery.
Glauber said another approach for collectors to take would be to consider scale. “He makes a number of smaller works so the larger-scale pieces are perhaps more desirable simply because there aren’t many in existence,” he explained. Another angle to take, said Glauber, would be to focus on the paintings that have elements that render them slightly off kilter and “reward the viewer for returning back to the painting over and over again.” For instance, when first seeing Swan (2021), a hyperrealistic rendering of a raw aloe plant, the viewer is keenly aware that it is arrayed in an unnatural pose. However, it is only after registering the work’s title that most viewers realize the aloe leaves are arranged in the shape of a swan—an example of one of the many delightful easter eggs that Hanos peppers throughout his paintings.
One of Hanos’s “Candle Maker’s Lamp” paintings was bought by none other than Dean Valentine, the well-respected collector and co-founder of the Los Angeles–based Felix Art Fair, who often focuses on up-and-coming artists. Valentine first became familiar with Hanos’s work around 2011 and reached out to him directly to set up a studio visit at the time. Admittedly, he didn’t fully grasp all of the elements of the practice at first, but he said he admired the work’s technical precision, and the intelligence Hanos exuded in conversation. Taking an immediate interest in one of the “Candle Maker’s Lamp” works, Valentine bought the painting for his collection, and then went on to buy a small flower painting—another recurring subject in Hanos’s oeuvre—and, at Château Shatto’s booth at Frieze New York in 2018, acquired Family High Noon (2018), a diptych of sorts that depicts two separate moments, barely distinguishable from one another, of a family relaxing on a beach in the afternoon heat.
Van Hanos, Epifania, 2021. © Van Hanos. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Van Hanos, Bernini Vertigo, 2021. © Van Hanos. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
“The works I respond to of Van’s are the ones that are more personal, and Family High Noon felt deeply personal to me,” said Valentine. “Through his paintings, I believe Van is looking to make these everyday moments meaningful in a world where we’re increasingly inundated with meaningless imagery.”
Thus far, it has mainly been Americans gravitating toward Hanos’s paintings, including a number of plugged-in, old-school collectors such as the Hort family, as well as a newer generation of collectors who have risen through the power ranks of L.A.’s entertainment industry. However, now that Lisson Gallery is on board, expect that collecting pool to grow significantly to include Europe- and Asia-based collectors as well, which should only add further liquidity to the secondary market for the artist’s work.
Going forward, though, you can be sure that Hanos’s two galleries will be prioritizing institutional and museum support. In fact, a little birdie tipped off The Canvas that a whopping four paintings from Hanos’s new show at Lisson have already been earmarked for museums, either as promised gifts or outright acquisitions.
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