Eva Hesse

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Eva Hesse
Eva Hesse in her studio in 1965. 'No Title' (1966).jpg
Eva Hesse in her studio in 1965.
Born (1936-01-11)January 11, 1936
Hamburg, Germany
Died May 29, 1970(1970-05-29) (aged 34)
New York City, U.S.
Nationality American
Education Yale University, studied with Josef Albers at Yale, Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, Art Students League of New York
Known for Sculpture
Movement Postminimalism

Eva Hesse (January 11, 1936 – May 29, 1970), was a Jewish German-born American sculptor, known for her pioneering work in materials such as latex, fiberglass, and plastics.

Early life[edit]

Hesse was born into a family of observant Jews in Hamburg, Germany.[1] When Hesse was two years old in December 1938, her parents, hoping to flee from Nazi Germany, sent Eva and her older sister, Helen Hesse Charash, to the Netherlands via Kindertransport.[2] After almost six months of separation, the reunited family moved to England and then, in 1939, emigrated to New York City,[3] where they settled into Manhattan's Washington Heights.[4][5] In 1944 Hesse's parents separated, her father remarried in 1945 and her mother committed suicide in 1946.[5]


After graduating from New York's School of Industrial Art in 1952,[6] Hesse 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 B.F.A.[7] Upon returning to New York she made friends with many young artists, including Sol LeWitt, who she remained close to for the rest of her life.[8] In 1961, she met and married sculptor Tom Doyle.[9] 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. There Hesse made her first three-dimensional piece: a costume for the Happening.[10] In 1963, Eva Hesse had a one-person show of works on paper at the Allan Stone Gallery on New York's Upper East Side.[11]

Repetition 19, III, 1968, fiberglass and polyester resin, nineteen units each 19 to 20 1/4" (48 to 51 cm) x 11 to 12 3/4" (27.8 to 32.2 cm) in diameter, Museum of Modern Art, New York.[12][13]

Hesse and Doyle—whose marriage was coming apart— [14] lived and worked in an abandoned textile mill in the Ruhr region of Germany for about a year during 1964–1965. Their studio was set up in a disused part of the industrialist and collector Friedrich Arnhard Scheidt’s textile factory in Kettwig-on-the-Ruhr near Essen.[15] The building still contained machine parts, tools and materials from its previous use and the angular forms of these disused machines and tools served as inspiration for Hesse’s mechanical drawings and paintings.[16] Hesse was not happy to be back in Germany,[17] but began sculpting with materials that had been left behind in the abandoned factory: first relief sculptures made of cloth-covered cord, electrical wire, and masonite, with playful titles like Eighter from Decatur and Oomamaboomba. Returning to New York City in 1965, she began working in the materials that would become characteristic of her work: latex, fiberglass, and plastics.[18] Eva Hesse had an interest in painting in the earlier stages of her career, as well in drawing, as evinced by her numerous workbooks. In November 1968 Hesse exhibited her large-scale sculptures at the Fischbach Gallery in New York. This exhibition was titled Chain Polymers and was Hesse's only solo sculpture exhibition during her lifetime.[19] The exhibition was pivotal in Hesse's career, securing her reputation at the time.[19]

She was associated with the mid-1960s postminimal anti-form trend in sculpture, participating in New York exhibits such as "Eccentric Abstraction" and "Abstract Inflationism and Stuffed Expressionism" (both 1966).[4] In September 1968, Eva Hesse began teaching at the School of Visual Arts.[20]

Except for fiberglass, most of her favored materials age badly, so much of her work presents conservators with an enormous challenge. Arthur Danto, writing of the Jewish Museum's 2006 retrospective, refers to "the discolorations, the slackness in the membrane-like latex, the palpable aging of the material… Yet, somehow the work does not feel tragic. Instead it is full of life, of eros, even of comedy… Each piece in the show vibrates with originality and mischief."[21]

From 1968 to 1970, Hesse taught at the School of Visual Arts, New York.[22] In 1969, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and she subsequently died on Friday, May 29, 1970. Her death in 1970, after three operations within a year,[22] at age 34 ended a career spanning only ten years.


Her art is often viewed in light of all the painful struggles of her life including escaping the Nazis, her parents' divorce, the suicide of her mother when she was ten, her failed marriage and the death of her father. Danto describes her as "cop[ing] with emotional chaos by reinventing sculpture through aesthetic insubordination, playing with worthless material amid the industrial ruins of a defeated nation that, only two decades earlier, would have murdered her without a second thought."[18] She also always felt she was fighting for recognition in a male dominated art world.[citation needed]

Hesse is one of a few artists who led the move from Minimalism to Postminimalism. Danto distinguishes it from minimalism by its "mirth and jokiness" and "unmistakable whiff of eroticism", its "nonmechanical repetition".[18] She was influenced by, and in turn influenced, many famous artists of the 1960s through today. For many artists and friends who knew her, Eva Hesse was so charismatic that her spirit remains simply unforgettable to this day. Eva Hesse’s natural and minimalist sculptural forms were a reaction against the rigid structure of minimalism in the 60s.[citation needed] By using dynamic organic forms with minimalist ideas, Hesse was able to integrate ideas of self and gender.[citation needed]


Eva Hesse’s sculptures have been the subject of debate in attempts understand how to preserve the pieces that have been deteriorating over the years. Eva Hesse is known for using unconventional materials in her sculptures, such as latex, fiberglass, and polymers. The latex of her sculptures, for example, Repetition Nineteen III (1968), have darkened over time, and the fiberglass in Hesse’s works have become brittle. For instance, Sans III which cannot be exhibited because the latex boxes has curled in on themselves and crumbled. Sans III is one of dozens of Hesse’s works that have fallen into decay and can no longer be shown to the public. Hesse’s close friend Sol LeWitt argued at a discussion for the conservation, “‘She wanted her work to last...She certainly didn’t have the attitude that she would mutely sit by and let it disintegrate before her eyes.’” [23] LeWitt’s response is supported by many of Hesse’s other friends and colleagues.

Early Works[edit]

Hesse’s interest in latex as a medium for sculptural forms had to do with immediacy. Keats states, “immediacy may be one of the prime reasons Hesse was attracted to latex”.[23] Hesse’s first two works using latex Schema and Sequel (1967–68) use latex in a way never imagined by the manufacturer. “Industrial latex was meant for casting. Hesse handled it like house paint, brushing layer upon layer to build up a surface that was smooth yet irregular, ragged at the edges like deckled paper.” [23]


In 1961, Hesse was included in group exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and at the John Heller Gallery, New York.[22] Her first solo show of sculpture was presented at the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf, in 1965.[22] Her only U.S. 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;[24] her large piece Expanded Expansion showed at the Whitney Museum in the 1969 exhibit "Anti-Illusion: Process/Materials".[24] There have been dozens of major posthumous exhibitions in the United States and Europe, including at The Guggenheim Museum (1972,[25] the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2002),[7] The Drawing Center in New York (2006) and the Jewish Museum of New York (2006).[24] In Europe, Eva Hesse had a posthumous exhibition in 2010 at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona.

According to the Summer 1979 issue of Artforum, there were three separate iterations of an Eva Hesse retrospective, entitled Eva Hesse: Sculpture. These exhibitions took place at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London from May 4 - June 17, 1979; the Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller in Otterlo from June 30 - August 5, 1979; and the Kestner-Gesellschaft in Hannover from August 17 - September 23, 1979. One artwork featured in the exhibition was Aught, four double sheets of laytex stuffed with polyethylene. Each are 78 x 40 inches.[26]


  • Art Talk: Conversations with Barbara Hepworth, Sonia Delaunay, Louise Nevelson, Lee Krasner, Alice Neel, Grace Hartigan, Marisol, Eva Hesse, Lila Katzen, Eleanor Antin, Audrey Flack, Nancy Grossman. 1975 New York; Charles Scribner's Sons. 201-224pps. Reprinted Art Talk: Conversations: Conversations with 15 Women Artists. 1995 IconEditions, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 173-199pps.
  • Corby, Vanessa. Eva Hesse: Longing, Belonging, and Displacement (I.B. Tauris, 2010) 250 pages; focus on drawings from 1960–61
  • Eva Hesse. 1976 New York; New York University Press / 1992 Da Capo Press, Inc. Lucy R. Lippard. illus. Trade Paper. 251p.
  • Eva Hesse Sculpture. 1992 Timken Publishers, Inc. Bill Barrette. illus. Trade Paper. 274p.
  • Eva Hesse Paintings, 1960–1964. 1992 Robert Miller Gallery. Max Kozloff. Edited by John Cheim and Nathan Kernan. illus. Trade Cloth. 58p.
  • Four Artists: Robert Ryman, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Susan Rothenberg. Michael Blackwood Productions, Inc. Color VHS 45 min.
  • Busch, Julia M., A decade of sculpture: the 1960s (The Art Alliance Press: Philadelphia; Associated University Presses: London, 1974) ISBN 0-87982-007-1
  • Willson, William S., ""Eva Hesse: On the Threshold of Illusions", in :Inside the Visible edited by Catherine de Zegher, MIT Press, 1996.
  • de Zegher, Catherine (ed.), Eva Hesse Drawing. NY/New Haven: The Drawing Center/Yale University Press, 2005. (Including essays by Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Briony Fer, Mignon Nixon, Bracha Ettinger). ISBN 0-300-11618-7
  • Griselda Pollock with Vanessa Corby (eds.), Encountering Eva Hesse. London and Munich: Prestel, 2006.
  • Milne, Drew (2008). "Eva Hesse". Art without Art: Selected Writing from the World of Blunt Edge. Edited by Marcus Reichert. London: Ziggurat Books. pp. 55–60. ISBN 9780954665661. 


  1. ^ SFMOMA exhibit notes, 2002 for Hamburg; Danto 2006, p.32 for family being observant Jews.
  2. ^ Vanessa Corby, ''Eva Hesse: Longing, Belonging and Displacement'', pp. 133-137. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-04-18. 
  3. ^ Lippard 1992, p. 6 and in the Chronology: THE ARTIST'S LIFE, p. 218.
  4. ^ a b Danto 2006, p.32.
  5. ^ a b Lippard 1992, p. 6.
  6. ^ Lippard 1992, p.218
  7. ^ a b SFMOMA exhibit notes, 2002.
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Lippard 1992, p. 19.
  10. ^ Lippard 1992, p. 21, 218.
  11. ^ Lippard 1992, p. 219
  12. ^ "Repetition Nineteen III". Museum of Modern Art, New York. 
  13. ^ Harriet Schoenholz Bee; Cassandra Heliczer (2005). MoMA Highlights. New York: Museum of Modern Art. p. 271. ISBN 978-0870704901. 
  14. ^ Lippard 1992, p. 26
  15. ^ Eva Hesse: Transformations — The Sojourn in Germany 1964/65, 12 June – 24 July 2004 Hauser & Wirth, Zürich.
  16. ^ Eva Hesse 1965, 30 January – 9 March 2013 Hauser & Wirth, London.
  17. ^ Lippard 1992, p. 24.
  18. ^ a b c Danto, 2006, p.33.
  19. ^ a b Sussman and Wasserman, Preface
  20. ^ Lippard 1992, p.220
  21. ^ Danto, 2006, p.30–31.
  22. ^ a b c d Eva Hesse Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  23. ^ a b c Keats, John. "The Afterlife of Eva Hesse." Art & Antiques Magazine. Art & Antiques Magazine, 31 Mar. 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.
  24. ^ a b c Danto, 2006, p.30.
  25. ^ Lippard 1992, p. 5, 128–129, 138, 180, 182.
  26. ^ [Artforum, Summer 1979. Page 6]


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