I wrote these posts on Hesse well before I conceived Mothers of Invention as a series, but the artist so fits the project that I decided to insert the posts here.

Mothers of Invention: Eva Hesse

Three separate posts are brought together here. Scroll to see them all

Eve Hesse: Sculpture

Retrospective at the Jewish Museum, May 12-September 17, 2006

Originally posted November 19, 2006

New York is enjoying an extended minimal moment this fall. Although it’s been over half a century since reductive work made its first appearance, Minimalism’s "Greatest Hits" (and some current favorites) are playing all over town. Is there something in the ether that has provoked a spate of related shows at the same time? Or, as in fashion, is it simply a cycle whose time has come round again? Whatever the reason, there was and is a lot to see—and this is not an oxymoron. Eva Hesse’s long-overdue retrospective, Eva Hesse: Sculpture, curated by Elizabeth Sussman and installed at the Jewish Museum seems to have been the catalyst.

Installation of Eva Hesse: Sculpture at the Jewish Museum, New York City, May 12-September 17, 2006

The Jewish Museum, located on Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile, is a lovely turn-of-the-last-century structure that was once a private home, but it's no Whitney. The exhibition is installed in one large U-shaped gallery on the ground floor, with a low ceiling. Still, this was the institution that made a commitment to showing Hesse’s oeuvre after the Whitney backed out a few years ago. I was grateful to see this work in one place. As an art student I remember seeing Hesse’s work around town and periodically after that at MoMA until the work’s fragility required it to be archivally sequestered. Here, it’s everything I remember and more.

Eva Hesse: Repetition Nineteen III, cast resin, 1968

Hesse was born in Hamburg in 1936. The family fled Nazi Germany two years later, coming to  New York City and settling in Washington Heights. Hesse studied at the Pratt Institute, Cooper Union, and Yale School of Art. By 1959 she was  in a studio making art, some of that time in a studio in Germany, near Dusseldorf.

As you well know, Hesse used non-beautiful materials—modest conventional stuff like twine and rope; industrial stuff like fiberglass; and at-the-time archivally untried stuff, like latex and resins—to effect her reductive and repetitive, and largely translucent, forms. Her great works are here: the 19 cast fiberglass vessels of Repetition Nineteen III (1968) in curatorially organized disarray; the protuberant grid of Schema (1967-1968); the multiple box-like segments of Sans II (1968); the stuffed latex and canvas panels of Aught (1968); the wall-like curtain of Expanded Expansion (1968); the latex-dipped sheets of Contingent (1969) and more. Since there was no photography allowed in the gallery, I have pulled images from the Internet.

Aught, stuffed latex and canvas, 1968

Sans II, cast resin, 1968, shown in installation (segments have gone to various institutions and private collectors)

Detail below

Schema, cast latex with movable elements,1967-1968

The hemispherical elements look as if they were cast from a handball. Their placement is ordered but not perfect, and each element rests unattached on the flat latex surface. This is a floor sculpture; you can see it in the installation picture above

Contingent, 1969

Perhaps because she intentionally left the trace of her process, including imperfect shapes and the impression of her own fingertips, Hesse's sculpture is as maximal as Minimalism can be—formally reductive but still resonating with Hesse-ian energy. Am I anthropomorphizing her work? Maybe. But her process—the dipping, casting, rolling, stitching, knotting, repeating, low-tech construction, and the evidence of her hand—is so much a part of her work that it’s impossible not to “see” her still in the 


An audio component allowed you to hear her as well, as it included fragments from interviews.
Many of her two dimensional works and some of her sculptures have a decided textile reference. Her four-part Aught--latex on the front, canvas on the back and stuffed with some kind of textural material--reads not only as sculpture but as blankets or quilts. The latex and fiberglass sheets in Contingent hang like, well, sheets, though Hesse herself said something like, "It’s really a painting hung in another material than a painting." Hesse worked early in her career as a textile designer, and that might account for the way she connected her particular dots with her use of thread, twine and rope, and  the sheets of latex.

One thing I can tell you for sure is that time has not been kind to the sculptures. Conceptually they are as strong as they always were, but structurally they are old before their time, the latex having become yellow and brittle with age. See the difference between Expanded Expansion when it was first made in 1968 and more recently. (The paintings and works on paper appear to have aged better.)

Hesse standing in front of Expanded Expansion in 1968 or sometime in the late 60s, above; a more recent shot of the work, which has yellowed (and become brittle) over time

Eva Hesse in her studio in Kettwig an der Ruhr, near Dusseldorf, Germany, in in 1964-65

While the work has aged, Hesse has not. She will always be pictured as a round-faced woman in her early 30s. The exhibition includes black-and-white--and voiceless--Super-8 footage from that time showing her working in her studio. Hesse never lived long enough to grow old. Born in 1936 in Hamburg, she died of a brain tumor in New York in 1970 at the age of 34, so it comes as something of a shock to realize she would have been 70 this year. (Update: That was in 2006. This year, in 2021, she would have been 85.)

Eva Hesse: Test Pieces

At Hauser & Wirth, New York City, March 16-April 24, 2010

Originally posted May 19, 2010

Eve Hesse at Hauser & Wirth

Here in the anteroom, two sculptures in papier maché and a small wall piece in Sculpmetal

The focus of this show consisted of so-called "test pieces"—small, dimensional sketches created in papier caché, which is paper that is pressed and adhered by tape or glue. Such work by a less iconic artist would never have seen the light of day. But because it is Hesse, we had the opportunity to peek into her process and thinking. Some of the folded forms and concave shapes looked as if they might have been molded over a body, like the hollow of a back or the curve of a shoulder; others, as if the artist was simply doing what her hands and the material allowed. Extraordinarily fragile now (they were made in 1969), they suggest what might have been. The works were displayed on a large table that took up the entire back gallery.

The anteroom held two sculptures and a small wall piece. These sculptures, in papier maché, and the wall piece, in Sculpmetal, are more recognizably Hessian.StatCounter - Free Web Tracker and Counter

Above, Inside II and Inside I, both 1967; acrylic, papier maché, sawdust, wood, cord and metal


Inside views of the respective works below

From the anteroom, above, we can look into the back gallery, below, where the test pieces were displayed on a large table

Above and below, opposite views of the papier caché sculptures on the exhibition plinth. The works were scattered on a table the way they might have been in the artist's studio

Eve Hesse: Studiowork

At the the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, July 20-October 10, 2011

Plus images from other venues

Originally posted September 8, 2011

BOSTON--I have been an admirer of Eva Hesse's work for decades. Early on, I'd see it in galleries, then in museums, and then less so in museums. MoMA, for instance, used to dispay Repetition Nineteen III, the fiberglass "buckets," transcendent in their honey-toned luminosity, and then one day I realized the work was no longer out. Then it was back. I'm not sure if it's that there is better conservation available, or simply an institutional acquiencense to entropy, but lately there seems to be more of Hesse's work on view.

So it is with the exhibition Studiowork at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. It's an institutional space with mostly intimately scaled objects: papier caché pieces on a large plinth, and smaller pieces displayed in vitrines. The ICA doesn't allow photography, and its website doesn't have any installation shots, so I've pulled shamelessly from the web to show you some of what I saw.  

Studiowork, 1968; Fiberglass, polyester resin, plastic, app 9 x 9 x 9 inches* 

Above and below: Two installation shots of the same show at its previous venue, the UC Berkley Art Museum. It's curated by Briony Fer, an art historian and Hesse scholar, and Barry Rosen, director of the Eva Hesse estate

This exhibition gathers a group of works that are not normally seen together, or seen at all. Given that Hesse worked largely in non-archival materials—unvulcanized latex, fiberglass and synthetic resins,  and fragile stuff like cheesecloth and string, paper and glue—it's a small miracle they are here still here, and equally important, still full of mystery and playfulness. Biographical information about the artist tells us that the objects on exhibiton were not in fact meant to be displayed, that they were experiments with materials and that many were given away to friends or were in her studio when she died in 1970 at the age of 34.

What strikes me about these pieces is how handmade they are: folded or pressed; cast from crude molds or dipped; poured or stacked; stapled, stitched or glued; coiled, wrapped or woven. The materials were industrial but the processes—and these works were all about the process—were about as low tech as you could get. In the work below, for instance, the segments appear to have been stitched together with a big, loose blanket stitch. And look at how it's displayed with a plastic hanger/clothespin. Seeing the work is much like viewing a dimensional sketchbook.

Studiowork, 1968; latex, cheesecloth, plastic, metal, app. 60 inches high**

Hesse in her studio (New York?), late 60s, early 70s. Image from the Internet

Studiowork,  1966; paint, wood, papier mâché, rubber, and metal***

Above: Studiowork, 1969; cheesecloth and adhesive

Below: Another view of the papier caché sculptures at the ICA****

Above and below:

Similar work from the Hauser & Wirth show in New York City last year

Here you get a better sense of the way the objects were laid out on a large table as if they might have been place by Hesse herself while she was working in her studio. At least that's the concept. JM photos

Above: Studiowork, late 1960s

I got this image from a review of the show by Mark Faverman on the online Berkshire Fine Arts

Those cast latex (and maybe latex with graphite?) pieces might have led to the work below: Sequel, 1967-68; latex, pigment and cheesecloth; sheet 30 x 32 inches; each element app. 2 5/8 inches in diameter. I photographed this work at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009, where it is part of the permanent collection

Studiowork, 1970; latex, cotton, and wire*****

This sculpture was shown inside a vitrine. It's kind of intestinal and yet its linearity makes it very much like drawing, especially when shadows complicate the work as shown here. Though it's dated four years after the work below, you can see the connections

Below: Hang Up, 1966; mixed media with cloth, wood, acrylic, cord, steel tube. Photographed by me at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. JM photo

Full info here

There's one other show I want to provide a link to: Paper: Pressed, Stained, Slashed, Folded at MoMA, in which you see a papier mache installation of Hesse's work. Of course there are numerous other articles written about Hesse. I have noted the ones I've written over the past few years.

Because is is both academic and immensely personal, Studiowork appeals to the head and the heart. But its power lies in its poignancy, for while these pieces relate directly or tangentially to works already realized, they also hint at what might have been possible.
Photo Credits
*University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Gift of Mrs. Helen Charash. Photograph by Abby Robinson, New York. Image from the ICA website
** Image scanned from Eva Hesse Studiowork by Briony Fer (Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, distribued by Yale University Press)
*** University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Gift of Mrs. Helen Charash. Photograph by Ben Blackwell, Alameda, California. Image from the ICA website
**** The Charash Family Collection. Photograph by Abby Robinson, New York
*****The Estate of Eva Hesse, courtesy Hauser & Wirth Zürich London. Photograph by Abby Robinson, New York. Image from the ICA website

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