what was eva hesse goal with her artwork
Mould for Eva Hese, Schema hemispheres
© The Estate of Eva Hesse. Hauser & Wirth Zürich London
Doug Johns, one of Hesse’s main assistants, was responsible for fabricating most of the artist’s polyester works. Johns now resides in Southern California, which facilitated interviews at his home prior to the exhibition and subsequent visits by Johns to SFMOMA during the course of the exhibition. Michelle Barger, objects conservator, led Johns through the installation and videotaped their discussion of the sculpture. Topics covered included fabrication, condition, limits of variability in disposition, and studio practices with respect to his role in the creation of the work. During another visit to SFMOMA , Johns brought his two original polyurethane moulds used to make Sans II , 1968, a fibreglass and polyester work comprising five sections. Each section is made up of twelve boxes, six boxes from one mould across the top, and six from the second mould across the bottom. SFMOMA owns one of the five sections and Barger requested that Johns bring the necessary materials to recreate a four-box mock-up. He still owned many of the original mould-making materials from the time of Hesse’s studio and used them in the mock-up. The entire process took place in the conservation studios and was videotaped and photographed.
Undated, September 1966 | Some of my work is falling apart. 2 pieces. 2 other pieces are discolored from the varnish. if and when I can repair. If not, so what. They are not wasted. I went further in the work that followed. I take more care technically, I plan and figure out more wisely.
July 1, 1964 | I have to do what I have to do. I should by now believe that that is not only what I am, but that what I am shouldn’t be fought because it is good. It is good to be what one is. In fact, the more I’m me, the better I would paint as then it can only be mine as no one else is me. . . . I still am agonized about my painting but at least now the agony is in and about work. And if I work that will most probably change into another kind of feeling. And if it remains it is better placed there than back into myself.
Her short but extraordinary life is the subject of the first film in American Masters’ upcoming four-part documentary series “Artist’s Flight,” which premiered on PBS on Aug. 31 and is now available for streaming on ALL ARTS. Following the episode on Hesse, “Artists Flight” will focus on the lives of Elizabeth Murray, Andrew Wyeth and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Here are three interesting aspects of the life of Hesse, a trailblazer who paved the way for future generations of female artists.
Her tragic death has been the subject of rumors and speculation
Eva Hesse died at the age of 34, less than a year after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. She underwent numerous treatments shortly after diagnosis, including three invasive yet unsuccessful surgeries. Rumors and speculation that her tumor was caused by exposure to resin — a compound she used frequently in her work — have lingered for decades, though they remain unproven.
In the last year of her life Hesse was in and out of the hospital and frequently battling exhaustion. Yet she continued to create her physically demanding, larger than herself sculptures. She was creating beauty through means that were physically demanding, and yet her love for the process refused to back down. This love shines through in her work. No Title was the second to last work Hesse created before her untimely death. She called the process of making it “choreography.” (Begleiter) For the creation of this piece Hesse dipped two long ropes into a vat of liquid latex. The ropes, each a different thickness, were knotted, looped and hung up to dry from the rafters of her studio. The piece is hung from thirteens hooks paced in the walls and ceilings of the installation’s location. The ropes are flexible and therefor, like many of her works, can be placed differently during each install. On Hesse’s original concept drawing is a note stating, “hung irregularly tying knots as connections really letting it go as it will. Allowing it to determine more of the way it completes its self.” (The Whitney) This was the last piece Hesse herself physically made.
When an artist creates work by hand they are inevitably leaving thousands of personal marks on the piece. Hesse’s work titled Tori received its name at the suggesting of fellow artist Robert Morris. Tori is the plural form of the word “torus,” which is derived from the Latin word. Each pod-like structure is made of wire mesh screen that acts armature. The mesh is then gently rolled in until the corners meet and can be pinned together at the top and bottom while allowing the middle to be spread open, so the viewer can see with-in the pieces. The surface of each piece was then coated with Hesse’s beloved fiberglass and resin combination. The mixture was not entirely well-suited to be placed on the wire mesh. This battle of mediums is evident as the viewer can see the physical evidence of the artists struggle to coat the wire frame. Once again, Hesse gave little care to include instructions on how the piece is to be installed. The nine structures are to be arranged randomly on the floor and against the wall. The Philadelphia Museum of Art uses photographs taken of the work in Hesse’s studio upon completion as a model of how Hesse herself would display them, although it is unclear if they were deliberately placed for the photographs or just set down out of the way. Hesse completed Tori with two collaborators in several stages between January and August 1969 including Doug Johns. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Eva Hesse (right) and her sister, Helen, on the streets of New York, circa mid-1940s. Photo courtesy William Hesse.
Her short but extraordinary life is the subject of American Masters: Eva Hesse, now streaming as part of “Artists Flight,” which concludes Friday, September 14 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) with a new documentary about visual artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.