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

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Accession III, 1967-68
Stiftung Ludwig 1976, Museum Köln

The concept of the absurd played a central role in Eva Hesse’s work and fate. Born in 1936 in Hamburg as the daughter of a Jewish defense attorney, she was sent to a Dutch children’s home at the age of two together with her sister following the pogroms of the Reichskristallnacht while the parents went underground in Germany. The family finally emigrated via England to New York, where they arrived in 1939, the only survivors among their relations, all of whom perished in the concentration camps. Their first apartment was on 86th Street facing, of all things, the headquarters of the American Nazis. The parents’ marriage finally fell apart completely. Hesse’s mother suffered from depression; following their divorce in 1946, she committed suicide. The father remarried, and according to Hesse’s own description, the stepmother was a "bitch."

Untitled, 1960
Deutsche Bank Collection

Untitled, 1960
Deutsche Bank Collection

After visiting Pratt Institute in the early fifties, she matriculated in 1957 at the Yale School of Art and Architecture, where one of her teachers was Joseph Albers, a former Bauhaus member who encouraged the young artist, previously influenced mainly by Willem de Kooning and Abstract Expressionism, towards a systematic investigation of form and color. Later, when she returned to New York, Hesse quickly became a part of the vital art scene. Throughout the early sixties she made ink drawings in grey, black, and reddish hues that seem to anticipate her later move to sculpture: irregular rectangles, spheres, asymmetrical circles, black forms filled in, white forms left blank as negative space. During this time she met Claes Oldenburg, Walter de Maria, and Sol LeWitt. She moved into a loft on the Bowery together with the sculptor Tom Doyle, whom she married in 1963. Her neighbors included the painters Robert and Sylvia Mangold and the art critic Lucy Lippard, who was to later publish seminal articles and books on Hesse’s work. In April 1964, only a few months after her first one-person show of drawings in New York, Hesse embarked with Doyle on a 15-month working sojourn in Germany at the invitation of the industrial magnate couple Isabel and Arnhard Scheidt, where she also attempted to track down the traces of her family.

H + H, 1965
©Courtesy Collection Hauser & Wirth, Switzerland
Photo: Abby Robinson New York, Barbora Gerny-Vojtêchov

In Kettwig an der Ruhr, a period of reorientation began that ultimately led to a dramatic break from her husband, who was in those days more successful with his art. At the same time, Hesse’s gradual departure from painting began to make itself felt. Dusseldorf was nearby, a center for Fluxus, performance, and happenings; throughout the mid-sixties, it developed into an important European art metropolis through artists such as Joseph Beuys , Günth er Uecker, and the Zero Group. Inspired by numerous trips, encounters, and visits to exhibitions, Hesse began experimenting with new forms of expression and materials such as plaster and string, which she integrated into reliefs. Discarded machine parts as well as found objects from her studio in a disused cloth factory inspired her to create a series of biomorphic machine images bursting with erotic allusions. While her early paintings were free and flowing and she later varied the body theme in her work with box-like forms, the newer drawings began combining order and chaos, corporeality and emptiness, "clean, clear but crazy like machines, forms larger, bolder, articulately described (…)." - "(…) So it is weird," Hesse remarks in a letter to Sol LeWitt, "they become real nonsense."

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