Monday, April 30, 2012

Artist of the Week No. 10

Eva Hesse.
Art Movement: Postminimalism

Untitled (Rope Piece) 1970

Eva Hesse was born in Hamburg, Germany on January 11, 1936.  She was a German-born American sculptor, and is known for being one of the first to work in such diverse materials such as latex, fiberglass, and plastics.

Early life Hesse was born into a family of observant Jews in Germany.  When Hesse was two years old, during the Nazi occupation, her parents sent her and her older sister to the Netherlands via Kindertransport. After a few months of separation, the reunited family moved to England and then, in 1939, emigrated to New York City.

Contingent, polymer, 1968

Sadly, in 1944 Hesse's parents separated.  Although, her father remarried in 1945, it was a tragic for her when her mother committed suicide in 1946 when Hesse was only 10 years old.

Hesse had worked and been educated as an oil painter, watercolorist, lithographer and sculptor.  She attended and graduated from New York's School of Industrial Art in 1952.  Hesse also studied at New York's Pratt Institute (1952–1953) and Cooper Union (1954–1957), then at the Yale School of Art and Architecture (1957–1959), where she studied under Josef Albers and received a Bachelors of Fine Arts.

Eva Hesse, S-105. Fibreglass, polyester resin, plastic.

In 1961, she met and married sculptor Tom Doyle.  In August 1962, Eva Hesse and Tom Doyle participated in an Allan Kaprow Happening at the Art Students League of New York in Woodstock, New York.  It was there Hesse made her first three dimensional piece: a costume for the Happening.

Repetition Nineteen III, 1968

Her and her husband returned to Germany for about a year during 1964–1965. But, Hesse was not happy to be back in Germany, and began sculpting with materials that had been left behind in the abandoned factory the couple was living in.  Her first pieces were relief sculptures made of cloth-covered cord, electrical wire, and masonite, with playful titles like Eighter from Decatur and Oomamaboomba. her relief sculptures were inspired by the qualities of string and plaster. From reliefs she moved to objects, using papier mache, paint, tubing, dyed nets and dangling string. Hesse loved the irregular shapes, surfaces and translucency that these materials produced. Hesse often created elaborate, handmade pieces involving obsessive repetition.  Although, many of her later pieces made of metal and fiberglass, she left the fabrication to outside companies. During the late 1960s, it was popular to remove the appearance of the artist's hand from the work. For Hesse, she did so more for practical reasons than intellectual ones.

She returned to New York City in 1965 she began working in the materials that would become characteristic of her work. Hesse discovered latex (a material she knew would eventually deteriorate), fiberglass and polyester resin.  Hesse had an interest in painting in the earlier stages of her career, as well in drawing, as evinced by her numerous workbooks.

She was associated with the mid-1960s postminimal anti-form trend in sculpture.

In September 1968 Eva Hesse began teaching at the School of Visual Arts.  Her only one-person show of sculpture in her lifetime was "Chain Polymers" at the Fischbach Gallery on W. 57th Street in New York in November 1968; her large piece Expanded Expansion showed at the Whitney Museum in the 1969 exhibit "Anti-Illusion: Process/Materials".  Since her death there have been many exhibitions in the United States and Europe, including at The Guggenheim Museum (1972), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2002), The Drawing Center in New York (2006) and the Jewish Museum of New York (2006).

Except for fiberglass, most of her favored materials age badly, so many of here pieces are challenging for curators to display.

It was in 1969, that she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her death May 29, 1970 at age 34 ended a career spanning only ten years.

Hesse was a pioneer of Feminism in the art world.  She always felt she was fighting for recognition in a male dominated art world and as an art teacher at an all girls school, I always make a point to teach about her specifically, not only because she was a minority nor because she escaped the holocaust but because her work was ground breaking.  It takes the discarded materials of industrialization and reinvents them, utilizing their texture and lines.  

She is considered one of the few artists who progressed Minimalism to Postminimalism.

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