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McKinnon EVA Spectres HESSE 1960 EVA HESSE SpEctrES 1960 .
Dedicated to Eva's sister. Helen. and to the memory of Eva Hesse .
EVA Spectres HESSE 1960 Edited by E. New Haven and London University of New Mexico Art Museum . Luanne McKinnon Yale University press.
contents preface HELEN MOLESwOrtH Me. Us: Eva Hesse’s Early paintings E. MILNE An Instrument in the Shape of a woman: the real Nonsense of Eva Hesse Notes Selected Biography Appreciation figures checklist 70 78 80 84 86 48 40 26 7 12 . LUANNE McKINNON Eva's Eva ELISABEtH BrONfEN the Spectral Bride and Her Uncanny Double LOUISE S. You.
through and through. which was nothing less than an existential challenge. to paint her self out—defined Hesse’s struggle and true goal: to commence with her position as an artist and to come to terms with self. Nevertheless. moved to a new studio in New York in 1960 as a determined young painter. Jasper Johns’s collage painting Target with Four Faces.preface The most gifted natures are perhaps also the most trembling. twenty-one of those paintings stand out as being closely related to one another. after graduating from Yale. You must come to terms with your own work not with any other being.” 1958–60.”1 As it has ever been for most aspirants in their first years as “professional” artists. paint yourself out. advanced American painting had already been dynamically redefined by constructions such as robert rauschenberg’s Bed. it will come by you alone. and frank Stella’s series of “Black paintings. irrational. Her painting oscillated between working through the problems of abstraction and quasi-figuration. Although she was often confused and maddened by the irreconcilable stances (read: all-out battle at her studio critiques) of Josef Albers and rico Lebrun. whose influence on her is apparent in her early paintings and drawings. through form and material. By that year. perhaps especially in New York. 1955. “exasperated. Hesse remained attentive to the tour de force hand of willem de Kooning and other select masters of line and abstract form. Hesse railed in a journal entry written just weeks before her May 1959 graduation and imminent departure to Manhattan: “the hell with them all. thus 7 . — André Gide Eva Hesse. Hesse searched for directional resolve. who today is renowned for the sculptural assemblages she made from the mid-1960s until 1970. as Max Kozloff has observed.”2 In 1960 Hesse painted approximately four dozen canvases or works on Masonite that record her aesthetic peregrinations. Add to that the fact that painting was on the outs among many vanguard artists—who were morphing painting with sculpture. as a group of sorts. her two main professors at Yale. which along with other progressive works of art had overturned the burden of Abstract Expressionism for a new generation of artists. searching pictures which almost desperately want to turn away from what had been achieved in recent history but are not yet released from its gravitational field. exemplifying her charge to herself to “paint yourself out.” that charge—literally. resulting in. 1955. Yet in the course of that year’s work.
D. various pieces that this project includes were first shown in European and Japanese museums. but. who have contributed new insights about these compelling early works. in silence. eventually evolving into the constructions that Hesse is lauded for. which traveled to the Hirschhorn Museum in washington. My deepest aspiration is to have known her. the task of considering this sui generis group of works was made altogether easier. In 2002. once completed (not as a formal solution but rather as a psychological denouement). Eva Hesse. As it is. Louise S. the representation of which became a purposeful and perhaps unavoidable project for her. and in 1996 at the robert Miller Gallery on fifty-seventh Street in New York. literally means an “image or apparition” (from specere “to look”). at her past and no doubt at her future. especially in the environment of the male-dominated art world in New York during the early sixties. the guiding hand of the Eva Hesse Estate. following the New Haven exhibition. by themselves. the paintings included in Eva Hesse Spectres 1960 have been overlooked in the extensive studies on the artist. this exhibition and catalogue is the first examination of them as a whole—that is. for Hesse. “spectre” also suggests an aura that hovers about. to have had a conversation in which to ask her about the paintings considered in this volume. where the biomorphic form was divided in a way akin to cellular division. Looking inwardly and outwardly and with paint as her guide. the procession of paintings under examination here represents a rupture that. specere. she began to paint herself out and away and ahead. Milne from Edinburgh. Not the least. the act of looking. threatening or terrifying in nature. after receiving an advance copy on cD-rOM of Eva Hesse: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings. as a consideration of their uniqueness and importance en masse.c. I had been puzzled for some years about the early paintings that comprise the exhibition Eva Hesse Spectres 1960 . forty years have passed since the death of Eva Hesse (1936–1970). to check our impulses as respectful readers of her work. My partners in this query are the gifted scholars Elisabeth Bronfen from Zurich. emotional. (1993). foretelling 8 Hesse’s desire to express and embody emotional states in abstract form that she mastered in her mature work. — E. was directed both at herself and at others. we have gone with what they tell us. who were the first scholars to consider and write about a select few. dionysiacal figures)—was interrupted by a wholly different set of works in which Hesse rendered semblances of herself and fictional selves in portrait form. imagined figures repeated in one form or another. at the San francisco Museum of Modern Art and thereafter were on view at the Museum wiesbaden in Germany and the tate Modern. two canvases were chosen for the second Hesse retrospective. or faint. Luanne McKinnon 9 . in 2006. It became apparent that the evident progression in Hesse’s compositions in 1960—(from total abstraction to the eventual appearance of figures. which described what I felt was the matrix of Hesse’s thought: the real and unreal phantasms of the mind. however. “Spectre” or “specter” from the Latin word spectrum. and Helen Molesworth from Boston. and physical bearing present in these paintings. these early paintings remained unknown to the public until the early 1990s. the word “spectre” sprang to mind as a way of describing the conceptual. as a memory or hallucination might. London. By and large. made them available to Helen cooper at Yale and to Linda Norden. As I suggest in my essay in this volume. settled back into solving the problems presented in abstraction.forcing the definition of a new hybrid fine-art object—Hesse’s choice of the human figure as her subject might easily seem a retardataire point of view. Barry rosen. when six of them were included in the exhibition Eva Hesse: A Retrospective at Yale University Art Gallery (1992). or where the single unit split or individuated into twos and then threes and then into attenuated.
Eva Hesse Spectres 1960 .
But this is to register “my” fantastical false start for Hesse. and overthrowing of. 2). 1) and Legs of a Walking Ball. (fig. with no history. 2) Eva Hesse. make a kind of joke of the distinctions between sculpture and drawing. from the New York of Donald Judd and carl Andre into the New York of Sol Lewitt and Mel Bochner. these works. to critic. You. But hindsight is always twenty-twenty. to 1960. what doesn’t make sense was how thoroughly Lippard was to overlook the work produced before this moment. 1965 both 1965 (fig. the wall reliefs are nothing short of joyful. these objects must have looked ripe for the picking. It is curious to be offered still earlier works. their off-kilter palette and their loving and obsessive wrapping of things in colored cord.1 I suppose. to feminist curator.HELEN MOLESwOrtH Me. and the nineteen in this exhibition take us back four or five years. to think that Lippard was crazy to have ignored the extraordinary wall reliefs of 1964–65 that Hesse made during a sojourn in Germany—works assembled in a studio fortuitously located in an old textile factory. Her death at the age of thirty-four in 1970 leaves us with a spectacularly closed oeuvre. more reminiscent of summer-camp art projects than avant-garde strategies for expanding the language of sculpture. especially since we know that Hesse had recently visited an exhibition of works by Marcel Duchamp in Bern. stating emphatically that this artist’s mature work begins in the fall of 1965. parenthetically bracketed by a series of false starts and one preemptive finish. 1965 It makes sense that she would see Hesse’s exploration of the idiomatic necessity of post-Minimalism’s “eccentric abstraction” as completely commensurate with Lippard’s own aesthetic. when Hesse was dutifully painting modest canvases in oil. were made a year after she completed her graduate studies at the Yale School of Art. the language of Minimalism. when I “discovered” the wall reliefs. and personal trajectory from wife-of-Minimalistpainter. filled with scraps of cool-looking industrial detritus strewn about the space. and would respond to Hesse’s near simul12 taneous working through. and rachel whiteread. 1) Eva Hesse. political. are where I begin my love affair with Hesse (and my quibble with Lippard). Ringaround Arosie. now. an activity what to do with the early work of an artist who died too young? the difficulty of the question is the result of a yawning absence: we don’t know what Eva Hesse would have produced had she lived. I felt like I had revealed the missing link between the playful slapstick quality of Duchamp’s readymades and the erotics of touch and tactility embodied by artists like Yayoi Kusama. Marcel Broodthaers. in retrospect. robert Gober. how drastically she seems to have wanted Hesse to have sprung Athena-like. It was Lucy Lippard who declared the first false start in her once-definitive and still ground-breaking monograph on Hesse. Us: Eva Hesse’s Early paintings (fig. it makes sense that Lippard would be drawn to Hesse’s circles and x’s on graph paper. Legs of a Walking Ball. It’s easy. all produced in New York. She was twenty13 . Ringaround Arosie (fig.
1966 (fig. they are either oil on canvas or oil on Masonite. choosing de Kooning as her primary interlocutor permitted Hesse to explore painting the figure with a strong calligraphic sensibility. oil on canvas. I). and they all situate a figure or figures against an emphatically abstract ground. we can also see it as a privileging of the relationship between persons over and above the relationship between people and the space they inhabit. Indeed. separated by a seemingly unbridgeable gulf. And what is it we find when we do so? All nineteen of them are intimately scaled. the articulation of line and space in this painting reminds me of Hang Up. at the tender age of twenty-four she seems to have set her sights on none other than willem de Kooning. and hence the body as both the subject and object of painting. No title. these pictures are available for a close second (or first) look. 49 1/2 x 49 1/2 inches 15 . reminiscent of Alberto Giacometti and Arshile Gorky as well as de Kooning. It seems clear to me that one of the more fallible reasons this body of work has been so little studied is that during the late 1960s and through the 1970s painting fell into such ill repute. while simultaneously placing that drawn figure in the midst of lushly painted abstract ground (pl. line and abstraction. or the I.) I don’t think Hesse was a mere formalist (although formal problems and their solutions seemed to occupy her greatly). for Hesse. while this might seem like a student’s acknowledgment of the flatness of the picture plane. true to what we know of Hesse’s extraordinary ambition as an artist. 1960. what feels remarkable about this painting is how early she articulates the problematic of proximity and distance—a problem she would continue to explore throughout her life. (for instance. a space intensified by the two different “triangles” of off-white that make up the painting’s background. with sensitivity and scale. Exhibited in 2010. for me. the two figures sharing a structural similarity to the great ridiculous form suggested by the cord-wrapped steel cable that emerges from and then returns to the frame. the work of someone so young.four years old. and her thick impasto and her recurrent use of pinks and white flesh tones suggest that she was also riding slipstream on de Kooning’s making a kind of parity between paint and flesh. proximity and distance in 14 Hesse’s work is never merely a problem of foreground and background. her creamy and sensuous application of paint reinforces my sense that Hesse was interested in the fact that de Kooning remained committed to the possibilities of figuration. 3). when painting is no longer discredited by the most advanced artists of the day. the difficulty inherent in (re)considering them is not only when to begin the full accounting of Hesse’s painfully truncated career. figure and ground produced a series of paintings that seem to stage a kind of existential dilemma. the pink of the figures is surely indebted to de Kooning’s pervasive manipulation of this color for its bodily affects. so. this vacillating movement between flesh and paint. but also how to assess. this is perhaps most demonstrable in plate II where we see two pink figures squeezed up against opposite edges of the picture plane. and Hesse treats it here as a simultaneous repository of eroticism (look at those thighs!) and alienation (pink is the color used to establish the boundary between figure and space). creating a hollow void where we have grown to expect pictorial fullness. most are rectangular. the painting is much more invested in the space between the two figures than it is in any potentially perspectival space.
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