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>> Interview: Louise Bourgeois
>> Career Women and Material Girls
>> The Legend's Burden: Eva Hesse
>> Close Up: Katharina Sieverding

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The Essence, the Soul, the Center:
Eva Hesse’s Stubbornly Original Work



Eva Hesse in the sixties

Skeins of string running rampant, ribs of wire dipped in fiberglass, serial structures: surrounded by Minimal and Pop Art during the sixties, the German American artist Eva Hesse created an oeuvre that eludes every categorization. In 1970, on the threshold to her international breakthrough, she died of a brain tumor at the early age of 34. In the US, Hesse has long been regarded as an emancipated forerunner of a younger generation of women artists, yet it’s only been over the past several years that her work has been celebrated with large exhibitions in Europe as well.


Metronomic Irregularity I , 1966
Photo: Ed Restle Museum Wiesbaden

Metronomic Irregularity is the name of a series of wall pieces made between 1966 and 1967 in which it seems as though raw nerves were being exposed: Eva Hesse connected two symmetrically arranged panels covered in liquid sculpmetal with a tangle of cloth-covered wire fed into tiny holes drilled to form regular grids. While the panels are characterized by a static geometric order, the wire creates a chaos of connections, a web that blends in with its own shadow on the wall and gives off a pulse of nervous energy that plumbs the heights and depths and the spaces in between and makes them palpable. "I remember that I’ve always worked with contradictions and opposing forms, which corresponds to the idea I have about life," Hesse said in an interview with the New York art critic Cindy Nemser in 1970, only a few months before her death. "(…) For me, everything was opposites. Nothing balanced out at the center. As my biography shows, there was never anything normal or mediocre in my life. It was always extreme."


Legs of a walking ball, 1965
Photo: Abby Robinson, New York, Barbora Gerny-Vojtêchovà
©The Estate of Eva Hesse, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

Much in the same way that Hesse combined different materials, adopted and then concealed or exposed structures and forms in her drawings, paintings, and sculptures, piecing together the records left behind by her life produces contradictory images and impressions. This begins with the photographs showing Hesse throughout the sixties in her studios in Germany and New York: a young woman with the aura of a fashion model engaged in a strange symbiosis with her art. In her studio in the small town of Kettwig in West Germany, Hesse holds her painting Two in one from 1965 in front of her like a shield. The two circular relief forms on plywood resemble cemented, spiral-formed breasts or thoughts circling around on themselves and then suddenly hardened. A metal umbilical cord juts out between them. In a photograph taken in 1966 in New York, she’s cuddling her work Untitled (Not Yet), oversized plastic bags reminiscent of testicles or breasts tied into finely meshed nets. One of the later photographs shows the artist a year before her death. Hesse’s face seems swollen from the effects of the operations, radiation, and cortisone treatments she was subjected to to battle her brain tumor. Her gaze is directed at her sculpture Right After (1969). Like a gigantic spiderweb covered in latex, shiny ropes dangle in a kind of mobile, shimmering and glittering in the light as though dipped in dew or resin – stringy, dripping, hardening.


Eva Hesse in her studio 134 Bowery Street , New York 1969
©The Eva Hesse Estate, Courtesy Galerie Hauser & Wirth, Zürich

Hesse always stressed that she didn’t judge the appearance of her art according to abstract or aesthetic criteria: "For me it’s a total image that has to do with me and my life… it is inevitable that it is my life, my feeling and thoughts… the total absurdity of life." While the work and the artist seem to merge in the photographs, this intimate exchange is contrasted by a disturbing alienation in the paintings and objects, forms uniting the organic and the mechanical in an absurd manner and touching upon sexual and existential themes in an entirely unpretentious way: fetishism, desire, vulnerability, transitoriness.

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