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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Addendum, 1967 Tate London
©Tate/ Art Resource, New York

Back in Germany, Tom Doyle already noticed that Hesse’s drawings were those of a sculptor and not a painter. The work consistently departs from the panel, conquers the space around itself, and shifts the focus to the material and process. Hang Up, made in 1966 after her return to New York, consists of a frame covered in fabric and acrylic from which a bandaged steel rod protrudes that leads a good ten feet away from the wall and then back to the frame, like a lasso. The frame contains nothing but the empty wall – a disillusioning object that is no longer a two-dimensional image, but as a sculpture is disturbing. Hesse’s art hit the nerve of the New York art scene: in her serial works, such as Accretion (1968), for instance, fifty fiberglass pipes leaning against the wall pick up on the systematics and reduced formal language of Minimalism. Yet in contrast to artists such as Donald Judd, who had his steel and chrome objects manufactured industrially, it’s precisely the personal element that Hesse juxtaposes with the severity of her arrangements.

Sans II, Detail Museum Wiesbaden
Photo: Ed Restle Museum Wiesbaden

The "soft" materials she used such as latex and cotton gauze are fragile; over time, they disintegrate. This lends Hesse’s objects and casts the sensuous character of bodily shells that call upon the viewer to spontaneously touch them. They incorporate air bubbles, change in light, become brittle over time and, in their unpredictability, elude artistic control. In a subtle way, the material sabotages the exact conceptual parameters that Hesse’s work is based upon. Softness, resiliency, and intuition: these are the properties typically attributed to women that Hesse always rejected as being cliché. Art had to do with the essence, the soul, the center, she stressed in a 1970 interview with Cindy Nemser, regardless of whether it’s produced by a man, a woman, "or a cockroach." Yet although the polarities of masculine and feminine dissolve in her work, giving way to an amorphous and universal sexuality, Hesse went down in art history as a typically "feminine" artist.

Eva Hesse and her work Accession II, ca. 1968
Photo: John A. Ferrari
Courtesy Galerie Hauser & Wirth, Zürich

A child that survived the Shoah, a patron saint of the pathology of the feminine, a Minimalist whose work fairly bursts its guts, and an interior turned inside out: both the posthumously published journals and Nemser’s interview – excerpts of which have repeatedly been assembled together in subjective ways – laid the foundation for Hesse’s legend as a beautiful, lonely, childless martyr who sacrificed her life to art – a female James Dean, the art world’s answer to the fates of Diane Arbus and Sylvia Plath. In Hesse’s case, the psychoanalytical approach feminism employed throughout the seventies to critically investigate sexual differences and the construction of feminine identity led to using the details of her sorrowful biography to interpret her work. Subsequent generations of women artists are to thank for the fact that her knowledge of the contemporary scene, formal acuity, and completely unique contribution to the art of the sixties was honored accordingly. Thus, on the occasion of the 2002/2003 Retrospective Eva Hesse at San Francisco’s MoMA, the Museum Wiesbaden, and the Tate London, the art critic Ulf Erdmann Ziegler wrote: "The sparks of electric corporeality enchanted Rebecca Horn to begin her discourse on hysteria, while Rachel Whiteread translated Hesse’s rubber experiments with form and counter-form into an architectural language. And, wherever “soft sculpture” turns up, Hesse is the inspiration, authority, and godmother."

Eva Hesse: Untitled, undated
Deutsche Bank Collection

Eva Hesse: Untitled, undated
Deutsche Bank Collection

Particularly in recent years, an analysis of Hesse’s early work has begun to investigate the conceptual relationship between her paintings and sculptures. The Deutsche Bank Collection also contributed its part to this. Thus, in 2003, four of Hesse’s gouaches from 1960 that had been believed lost and that demonstrate her early experiments with positive and negative forms could be seen in the retrospective at the Museum Wiesbaden. They became property of the bank following its takeover of a Parisian financial institution and could now be presented again. In 2004, the exhibition Eva Hesse: Transformations – the Time in Germany 1964 – 1965 at the Kunsthalle in Vienna reevaluated Hesse’s stay in Kettwig and her connections to Europe. Hesse’s work continues to elude unequivocal interpretation. Even as restorers around the globe are toiling away at conserving the increasingly brittle substance of her fragile sculptures, they have lost nothing of their autonomous energy: As Hesse said shortly before her death: "But I was very satisfied with my work, because all I wanted was to discover my own arena, my own world, my inner peace, or my inner chaos."

Translation: Andrea Scrima

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