Eva Hesse was a pioneer Minimalist and Post-Minimalist sculptor famous for her explorative use of unorthodox materials and sometimes 'disorderly' spatial structures. She was a close friend of fellow artist, Sol LeWitt, with whom she often corresponded.Read More
Hesse's fragile organic sculptures and preparatory ink drawings were greatly admired by critics as diverse as Lucy Lippard and Robert Pincus-Witten—both seeing her practice as contributing to a softer feminisation of hard-edged Minimalist values, as well as expressing a Feminist politic. Later hugely influential, she died young of a brain tumour.
Hesse arrived in New York from Germany with her family in 1939. She studied Abstract Expressionist painting at Cooper Union School of Art (1954–1957) and then attended Yale School of Art where she was taught by Josef Albers. Albers put studio practice before theory, believing that the working process was crucial, that seeing 'was everything.' He emphasised the experiential as a means of personal discovery.
Eva Hesse's innovative career as sculptor began around 1964. Up till then she had concentrated on painting which had evolved to include organic biomorphic forms. In the subsequent three-dimensional work she is known for, she embraced Process art, Serial art, Minimalism, industrial subcontracting, and Repetition. Hesse believed artmaking was an intuitive open process not to be confined by rules, and her ideas resonated with many other artists.
The 70 or so sculptures she completed incorporated a wide range of materials. These include papier mâché, sculpmetal, rubber latex, plastic tubing, rubber washers, Plexiglas and steel sheets, string, wood, polythene, metal grommets, cheesecloth, aluminium wire, and fibreglass. She was fearless in exploring different building techniques and incorporating natural processes like gravity. She regularly injected her work with humour.
Hang-Up (1966) shows a looping wire springing out of a wrapped-up rectangular frame on a wall, and attempting to escape by leaning out over the floor. It seems to allude to her own shift in production methods.
Hesse often displayed her working drawings alongside her sculpture. Untitled No.1 (1967) shows 25 delicate concentric circles, positioned in a 5 x 5 grid, rendered in ink wash and pencil with protruding cotton string in their centres.
Addendum (1967) presents a row of 17 grey papier-mâché semi-spheres, lined up on a board and gradually increasing in horizontal separation. Each has ten feet of cord dangling from its centre, down to the floor where it twists around and spirals. As well as showing a serial sequence in spacing, the work could allude to maternal love and a wider community of empathetic mothers.
'Accession' (1967–1968) presents a series of highly evocative, different sized, tactile open cubes, where plastic tubing is threaded into thousands of paired holes on the gridded Plexiglas or steel sides to create a vivid inside/outside contrast. It looks like weaving on the outside and densely packed furry tendrils on the inner, and with its sexual ambience seems to reference Méret Oppenheim's furry tea cup (Object (1936)), albeit a reversal of textures.
Expanded Expansion (1969) is a work of multiple sections of joined rectangular latex on cheesecloth 'skins' that are held up by poles leaning against the wall. It seems to allude to sheets drying on a clothes line, or a line of stretchers.
Untitled (Rope Piece) (1970), with its tangled hanging skeins of gluggy thread, string, and cord alludes to a much earlier Surrealist installation: Mile of String (1942) by Marcel Duchamp. Suspended from the ceiling it is a large frenetic scribble in space, a frenzied, knotted celebration of congealed chaos.
Eva Hesse's exhibitions include the following major travelling exhibitions: Forms Larger and Bolder: Eva Hesse Drawings, Hauser & Wirth, New York (2019), travelled to Museum Wiesbaden, Germany, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna (both 2019), and Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin (2021); Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin (2014), travelled to The Addison Museum, Andover (2015), and Cleveland Museum of Art (2016); and Eva Hesse: Retrospective, Tate Modern, London, travelled to Museum Wiesbaden, Germany and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2002).
The artist's website can be found here.
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021
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