Home Magazine Eva Hesse “Absurdity is the Key word”

How you can ignore the formal aspects of art?

So I am stuck with esthetic problems. But I want to reach put past…I want to give greater significance to my art. I want to extend my art perhaps into something that doesn’t exist yet…

(Cindy Nemser, Conversation with Eva Hesse, 1970)

Eva Hesse herself remarked her life - so strongly marked by extremes - is perceptible in her works in subtle ways. Although her sculptures seem clear and accessible at first glance, they also consistently confront us with a provocative and impenetrable aspect. In the last months we already spoke about the Unmissable Exhibitions for this 2019, and also dedicated a long tribute to Women in Art World. But today we will go deepen more the work of the German artist Eva Hesse, that will be present in a solo show at Mumok Museum in Vienna, from November 16, 2019 to February 16, 2020.  

Eva Hesse was born in Hamburg in 1936 and when she was just two years hold she left the city together with her sister Helen, as part of Kindertransport for refugee children bound the Netherlands. Shortly thereafter, Eva and her sister emigrated with their parents to New York, which would become her new home. Interestingly, Eva Hesse took the first steps toward expanding the concept of sculpture not in the dynamic environment of the contemporary art scene in New York, but while working on her own in Kettwig, a German town not far from Essen and Düsseldorf.

Discover more about the latest exhibition at the MAK Museum in Vienna "CHINESE WHISPERS: Recent Art from the Sigg Collection"...

She and her husband, Tom Doyle, had been invited by the industrialist Friedrich Arnhard Scheidt and his wife to spend a year in Germany in 1964-65. Working in a disused textile factory in Kettwig, prompted Hesse to switch from painting to sculpture, and also inspired her to experiment with synthetic materials such as fiberglass, polyester resin, and latex, which until then were rarely been employed in an artistic context. 

“My idea now is to discount everything I’ve ever learned or been taught about those things and to find something else. So it is inevitable that it is my life, my feelings, my thoughts” as Hesse said about her art in a 1970 interview. 


Installation View of "Chain Polymers", Hesse solo show at Fischbach Gallery 1968.


Eva Hesse used these unconventional modern materials to develop a highly distinctive sculptural language, and although she had only five more years in which to explore and test her ideas - she died in 1970 at the age on only thirty four - she produced a substantial body of works that gained the attention of like-minded artists soon after she returned to New York in August 1965, and was equally well received in wider art-word circles in the United States, Germany, and Great Britain. Looking back over the thematic and group exhibitions since 1965 in which Hesse’s works has featured, its pioneering qualities become clearly evident; among other things, it has been presented as a “return of the real in art”, and example of “the real thing”, and of “anti-illusionism”. 

Eva Hesse had returned to New York in the fall of 1965. The American art critic and curator Lucy Lippard described in her thorough monograph on Eva Hesse, published in 1976, that this time in Germany was a “crucial apprenticeship” in her career that, above all, brought about a momentous breakthrough: "Hesse, who he’d seen herself as a painter up untile that point, had now developed an image of herself as a sculpture". 


“Accretion” (1968) by Eva Hesse. Installation at the Hamburger Kunsthalle 2013. Credit- MD Begleiter. 


The hight transport costs meant that Hesse had to leave all of the “material pictures” behind in Europe when she returned to New York to new artist friends, such as Mel Bochner, Carl Andre, Nancy Holt, Robert Smith and Dan Graham. She quickly cultivated a close relationship and inspiring exchange with these fellow artists who were considered to be, at time, serialist. In the mid-nineteen-sixties the art scene in New York was already being shaped by, what was then embryonic, Minimal Art with its reduced and use of color to black and grey, and to Monochromy, directly after arriving in New York can be interpreted as her response to this artist environment. The principle of repetition and seriality, which was making itself increasingly noticeable in Hesse’s works, is fundamental to Minimal Art, yet Eva Hesse employed it in using a highly independent and complex methodology.  

Another important feature of Hesse’s work is the association with absurdity, with a humor that might initially be surprising, but it is a logical conclusion from the perspective of linguistic. Coming from the latin “absurditas”, the word absurdity, which generally describe something that is incongruous, nonsensical, and contradictory of all logic, is also the synonyms of folly and farce - two qualities found in Hesse’s art. Indeed, the moment of surprise that is immanent in farce that arise as a result of a completely different perception and point of view from that of the initial reception, while see in folly always a sense of something that goes beyond understanding. She did not seem to have the slightest doubt in the possibility of change in itself. Her question “ Can it be different each time?” immediately provided the answer: “Why not?”. 

*This article is written almost with texts from the catalogue Eva Hesse. One More than One, Hamburger Kunsthalle.


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