Eva Hesse was born into a German-Jewish family in 1936. She grew up in Hamburg, Germany and eventually moved to the United-States (New York) to pursue her career as a proto-feminist and minimalist artist. Hesse became interested in creating paintings and sculptures and eventually came to merge the two forms together. Pieces of material such as rope, string, fiberglass, rubber – mostly constructive, everyday pieces/objects. These materials helped Hesse touch on themes such as feminism and the body, psychology, associations with sex and most importantly, her psychological and physical condition.
Eva Hesse was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 34. With that came chronic depression. Many pieces of her work touched on topics associated with her experiences with a brain tumor. In the documentary on Hesse, they refer to her journey as “emotionally chaotic”.
The 2016 documentary “Eva Hesse” documents her career through sculpture while including her own personal, hand-written letters, narrated by Selma Blair. The documentary is available on Amazon, Netflix, and iTunes. It also brings her close minimalist friends (Judd, Kusama, and LeWitt) into the picture.
Marcie Begleiter with Karen Shapiro on the documentary film (Eva Hesse – a film by Marcie Begleiter).
Some of her work:
Contingent (1969): Sculpture by Eva Hesse made of Cheesecloth, latex, fiberglass. 8 units in size
From the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
The hanging strips are made to appear as skins; lifted from the surface of a painting (but not represented as a painting itself). This piece breaks the boundaries of sculpture and painting. Hesse intentionally found interest in the natural decay in latex, but also attempted to mimic forms of paper Mache. The hue-tones and discoloration of the fiberglass transmitted light and created contrast. This piece was created not long before Hesse past away in 1970 (just a year before). The dynamic fluidity in art and inevitability of materials implies notions of strength and maintenance, while struggling to remain intact. This also parallels with her medical condition of cancer.
Another famous piece by Hesse’s minimalist work was Repetition Nineteen III from 1968. There are 19 translucent fiberglass piece (close to 20 inches tall each). She individually manufactured all pieces with similar dimensions, but not all pieces are completely alike. Each installation also differs because of the random variations in arrangement. Once again, Hesse works with the vulnerability of fiberglass because of its deterioration over time – just like in art. This piece was displayed at the MoMA and can also be found in their online collection.