T1-MMT-P2 Joining and Wrapping Research – Eva Hesse

Eva Hesse (1936 – 1970) has been associated with Minimalism and with early feminist art (The Art Story, [nd]), with organic abstraction (Dempsey, 2010) and process art (Honour and Fleming, 2009). One short post can give only the most brief and partial information on this woman, her work and ongoing influence. I will focus on aspects relevant to Joining and Wrapping. I’ve pinned a number of her works on my Joining and Wrapping pinterest board, and will include separate links to particular works below.

Her name has come up in this blog a few times before.

  • From Reading – Elissa Auther: String Felt Thread (26-May-2012): Hesse was an artist among those who began to use fibre in their work in the postminimilism movement, having sufficient credibility and connections to avoid the suggestion of craft in her work.
  • In Reading: Abstraction and its Processes (2-Nov-2014) I noted references to Hesse in company with Robert Hunter, Paul Partos, Marcel Duchamp and Sandra Selig in Kelly’s discussion of the use of thread as a mark making tool by painters and sculptors.
  • A more recent Experimentation (14-Dec-2014) was inspired by my reading of Glenn Adamson linking Marcel Duchamp’s 3 Standard Stoppages to “the drooping, coiling, spilling, and curling forms of Hesse, Morris, Zeisler, Hicks, and their peers” (Adamson, 2014, p. 148)
  • From the MoMA website: “Her mature sculpture abounds in contradictions: chaos and order, organic and geometric, absurd and tragic. Hesse was one of the first and most influential artists to question the austere, immobile exactitude of serial Minimalism and imbue it with a capacity to move, change and vary from the norm like a living being.” (Johnson, 2009)

    Hesse was highly experimental in her use of materials, and in her evolving approach to making art. Hang Up (1966, Art Institute Chicago) turns art inside out. Clement Greenberg claimed “Modernism used art to call attention to art” and championed abstract expressionists who focused on the flat surface of the canvas and the physical presence of the paint (more at 2-Mar-2014 and 27-Dec-2013). Hesse removes the canvas entirely, and extends an acrylic covered steel cord far into the viewers’ space. The frame, on Old Masters works often elaborate, in modern art marginal or absent, is central to the work – Is the work. It’s a playful, ironic comment on art, and has the the level of “absurdity or extreme feeling” Hesse sought. Of interest in my current Assignment, the frame is neatly but not smoothly wrapped in fabric and covered with acrylic paint. The wrapping does not disguise the frame – effectively the canvas surrounds the frame instead of the frame surrounding the canvas. The normal picture’s hanging wire is brought right into view. I haven’t found a good closeup to examine the join of cable to frame, but it appears to be managed neatly and invisibly.

    I have had the opportunity to see two of Hesse’s works in person. One, a painting in the National Gallery of Victoria, was seen briefly in a chaotic room and had little impact. The other is Contingent (1969) in the National Gallery of Australia. This is huge, and in my eyes dominates its space despite being hung in a rather odd area transitioning between galleries. In the large, dim, gray concrete space Contingent glows, capturing, condensing and infusing the light around with warmth. Standing near the panels they seem immense, somehow heavy with gravity pulling them down and yet ethereal. From Hesse’s exhibition statement when Contingent was show at the Finch College Museum:

      “I remember I wanted to get to non art, non connotive,
      non anthropomorphic, non geometric, non, nothing,
      everything, but of another kind, vision, sort.
      from a total other reference point, is it possible?
      I have learned anything is possible, I know that.
      that vision or concept will come through total risk, freedom, discipline.”

    (Hesse, 1969)

    Tomorrow’s Apples (5 in White) (1965) (The Tate) could be seen as joining curved edges with a gap. This relief was part of Hesse’s move from painting to sculpture, and can be seen as in interpretation of line in three dimensions. Cloth-wrapped rods make connections across the surface, and are apparently “secured by being knotted through the chipboard support” (The Tate, 1981). The wrapping and joining are clearly relevant to this Part of the course, but also of interest are the irregular areas of papier mâché on the board, creating relief but also reminiscent of the torn edges explored in Part 1.

    Metronomic Irregularity I (1966) (Brooklyn Museum) is also an exercise in joining with a gap. To me it looks like a joyful scribble in space, or a crazy early phone switchboard. So many connections! Such chaos, yet somehow captured in a grid. There’s a wonderful sense of energy and freedom … contained, disciplined.

    A point of interest in using Mixed Media. Hesse once said “Life doesn’t last, art doesn’t last, it doesn’t matter” (quoted in Prichard, 2012). Her choice of materials has proven very difficult for curators. Many of Hesse’s works are now extremely fragile, some impossible to display. On the Tate website is an interesting article by Michelle Barger, considering the possibilities and implications of replicating Hesse’s works (Barger, 2007). Virtually any ‘Old Masters’ work we see in a gallery has substantially changed since leaving the Master’s hands, through deterioration of materials and restoration efforts. I wonder how different Contingent looked when first hung.

    Adamson, G. (2014) “Soft Power” in Porter, J. (ed.) Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – Present DelMonico Prestel

    The Art Story ([nd]) Eva Hesse: German-American Sculptor [online] Available from http://www.theartstory.org/artist-hesse-eva.htm (Accessed 4 June 2015)

    Auther, E. (2009) String Felt Thread: The hierarchy of art and craft in American art, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press

    Barger, M. (2007) Thoughts on Replication and the Work of Eva Hesse [online] Available from http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/thoughts-on-replication-and-work-eva-hesse (Accessed 5 June 2015)

    Dempsey, A. (2010) Styles, schools and movements: The essential encyclopaedic guide to modern art. London: Thames & Hudson.

    Hesse, E. (1969) catalogue statement [online] Available from http://nga.gov.au/international/catalogue/Detail.cfm?IRN=49353 (Accessed 7 June 2015)

    Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

    Johnson, E. (2009) From Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press [Online] Available from http://www.moma.org/ (Accessed 7 June 2015)

    Kelly, W. (2011) Abstraction and its Processes: An historical and practical investigation into abstract visual language Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing (print on demand – October 2014)

    Prichard, S. (2005, reproduced 2012) “Collecting the Contemporary: ‘Love will decide what is kept and science will decide how it is kept'” In Hemmings, J. (ed) (2012) The Textile Reader, Berg.

    The Tate (1981) Catalogue entry: T02383 TOMORROW’S APPLES (5 IN WHITE) 1965 [Online] Available from http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hesse-tomorrows-apples-5-in-white-t02383/text-catalogue-entry (Accessed 7 June 2015)

    Other Resources

    Glueck, G. (2006) “Bringing the Soul Into Minimalism: Eva Hesse” In The New York Times [Online] Available from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/12/arts/design/12hess.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (Accesseed 5 June 2015)

    T1-MMT-P2 Joining and Wrapping Research – Eva Hesse
    Textiles 1 – Mixed Media for Textiles
    Part 2: Joining and wrapping
    Research: Eva Hesse

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