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(1936 – 1970), Germany

Eva Hesse Biography

Born under the Nazi government in Hamburg, Germany, in 1936 to a German-Jewish family, Eva Hesse was sent away at two years old along with her five-year-old sister on one of the final Kindertransports (trains rescuing Jewish children from Nazi Germany). Her parents escaped later and joined their children in Holland. Eventually the entire family made it safely to New York in 1939. However, their extended family were not so lucky. The Hesses had a hard time settling in their new home and Hesse's mother struggled with depression, committing suicide when Hesse was only nine years old.

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Hesse first studied at Pratt Institute, then The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and Yale University. Between studies at Pratt and Cooper Union, Hesse held an internship at Seventeen. At Yale she studied under artist Josef Albers, who, before escaping Nazi Germany, taught at the Bauhaus—the German institution that merged art, craft and design. After leaving Germany, Albers taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, known for its own American flavour of interdisciplinary experimentation. The philosophy of both Bauhaus and Black Mountain College undoubtedly was carried along with Albers to Yale and to a young Hesse.

Hesse's career began in the mediums of drawing and painting. Her early works are largely portraits of figures in thick brushstrokes headed towards complete abstraction. No title (1960), shows a gestural figure, with the barest indication of eyes, nose and mouth, standing shyly near the left edge of the canvas. The figure seems ambivalent about its presence, as if it may leave the picture plane altogether at any moment. Upon her return to New York after her studies, Hesse worked as a textile designer and jewellery store assistant to support herself while she continued to paint.

In 1964 Hesse followed her then-husband, sculptor Tom Doyle, to Germany for 15 months for a residency. This was less than 20 years after the end of the war; it was a difficult journey for Hesse, to return to the country that had destroyed her family. However, during the residency, Hesse found the inspiration to transition from painting to sculpture. She experimented with metal and string that was lying around her studio and soon found her work in a meeting-point between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional. In Legs of a Walking Ball (1965), for example, a straight red rod and a yellow curved rod with a bulbous form on the end protrude from the picture plane as if they are lines that have jumped off the page. Their shadows become like drawn lines on the image they float above. In such work, the mixed media, organic, bodily forms that Hesse would become known for begin to feel themselves in space.

The first exhibition of Hesse's new sculptural leanings occurred at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in 1965. The institution showed 14 of Hesse's relief works, including Tomorrow's Apples (5 in White) (1965). In Tomorrow's Apples (5 in White) two sections on the white picture plane are textured with thick white paint. On the edges of these two sections five cords connect one white space to the other. The cords, in blue, pink and yellow, form a bridge across the space, creating shadows on the canvas. Between the lines of the cords and the lines of their shadows, perhaps the five apples alluded to in the title are formed.

From these initial experiments with relief, Hesse developed her sculptural language even further upon her return to New York. She began using latex, fibreglass, polyester resin and rubber. In Contingent (1969), Hesse created eight banner-like forms in which latex-covered cheesecloth is stretched between rectangles of fibreglass. These forms are hung in space, perpendicular to the wall. In their grouping and organic nature, these works are reminiscent of stretched, hanging bodies. One of the first artists to take the language of Minimalism and stretch it beyond its rigid structures, Hesse's world of materiality—such as in Contingent—held a direct relationship to the body through the pathos of her materials.

Over her life, Hesse corresponded with contemporaries such as Sol LeWitt. Her extensive journals and letters are in the collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. She was also close to Carl Andre and felt a very visceral connection to his work, comparing his metal pieces to the concentration camps in an interview with Cindy Nemser for Artforum in May 1970.

In 1969, the headaches Hesse had been prone to became increasingly serious. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Though the subsequent surgeries Hesse underwent were at moments thought to be successful, the tumours soon returned. They dealt the final blow in 1970. Hesse made the work Untitled (Rope Piece) (1970) with help from friends as she was nearing the end of her life. Rope, string and wire is covered in latex and hung from approximately 13 wires, shelter-like, each section blending into the other like a spider's web, both taut and limp. Hesse was 34 when she died.

Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2018

Eva Hesse Featured Artworks

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No title by Eva Hesse contemporary artwork
Eva HesseNo title, 1964Collage, gouache, watercolour, coloured pencil, and graphite on construction paper
45.9 x 32.4 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
No title by Eva Hesse contemporary artwork
Eva HesseNo title, 1954Ink on paper
27.9 x 21.8 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
No title by Eva Hesse contemporary artwork
Eva HesseNo title, 1960Oil on canvas
35.2 x 35.2 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
No title by Eva Hesse contemporary artwork
Eva HesseNo title, c. 1962Oil on canvas
121.3 x 90.5 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
No title by Eva Hesse contemporary artwork
Eva HesseNo title, 1961Oil on canvas
41.3 x 41 x 2.2 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
Repetition Nineteen III by Eva Hesse contemporary artwork
Eva HesseRepetition Nineteen III, 1968Fiberglass, polyester resin
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
Sans II by Eva Hesse contemporary artwork
Eva HesseSans II, 1968Fiberglass, polyester, resin
96.5 x 1092 x 15.6 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
Untitled by Eva Hesse contemporary artwork
Eva HesseUntitled, 1964Watercolor, gouache, crayon, pencil and collage on paper
19 5/8 x 25 1/2 inches
Tina Kim Gallery Contact Gallery

Eva Hesse Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Stronger Than Language at Hauser & Wirth, St. Moritz
11 June–5 July 2020 Group Exhibition Stronger Than Language Hauser & WirthSt. Moritz
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, New Images of Man at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
1 February–14 March 2020 Group Exhibition New Images of Man Blum & PoeLos Angeles
Contemporary art exhibition, Eva Hesse, Forms Larger and Bolder: EVA HESSE DRAWINGS from the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College at Hauser & Wirth, New York
5 September–19 October 2019 Eva Hesse Forms Larger and Bolder: EVA HESSE DRAWINGS from the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College Hauser & Wirth69th Street, New York

Eva Hesse Represented By

Hauser & Wirth contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong, Zurich, London, New York, Los Angeles, Somerset, Gstaad, St. Moritz
Kukje Gallery contemporary art gallery in Seoul, South Korea Kukje Gallery Busan, Seoul

Eva Hesse In Related Press

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An Unlikely Matchup of Paper and Steel Related Press An Unlikely Matchup of Paper and Steel 14 September 2019, Hyperallergic

They sounded like an odd pairing when the announcement arrived: Eva Hesse and John Chamberlain, featured in the exhibitions, Forms Larger and Bolder: EVA HESSE DRAWINGS and John Chamberlain Baby Tycoons, at Hauser & Wirth's uptown townhouse. While they are clearly separate shows, their proximity nonetheless sets up inevitable — if...

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Your Concise New York Art Guide for Fall 2019 Related Press Your Concise New York Art Guide for Fall 2019 10 September 2019, Hyperallergic

As always, there are many wonderful exhibitions, film festivals, and art events taking place throughout the fall in New York. We've put together our recommendations, and hope that they encourage you to explore the artistic happenings of this great city. Focusing on museums, art nonprofits, and galleries that continue to make New York a global hub...

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Turning women’s work into art Related Press Turning women’s work into art 21 February 2017, Apollo Magazine

For almost four years the critic Karen Wright wrote a weekly column for Radar, the Independent newspaper's magazine, entitled In The Studio, which was based on nearly 200 visits to artists' studios. As she puts it in her catalogue essay for Entangled, currently at Turner Contemporary, 'Looking at what is lying around or pinned to the wall is...

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A guide to New York City's historic artist studios Related Press A guide to New York City's historic artist studios 5 August 2016, Hyperallergic

In New York City’s constantly changing urban landscape, artist studios can be ephemeral. Reborn as private condos, such as Willem de Kooning’s West 22nd Street space, or demolished, like Andy Warhol’s first Silver Factory on East 47th Street, many of these historic sites are inaccessible or lost. Several of the city’s...

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