The first major New York museum exhibit of Eva Hesse’s sculpture since 1972 will focus on large-scale works she created in the years 1965–70 alongside never-before-exhibited family diaries, photos, and letters.
Eva Hesse was one of the great artists of the 1960s, and her major sculptural works stand out as singular achievements of that era. At once drawing on Minimalist strategies of repetition and seriality, and pushing nontraditional materials toward new modes of expression, Hesse created an art that evoked emotion, absence, and contingency. The large-scale sculptures she created in latex and fiberglass for her only solo sculpture exhibition, Chain Polymers at the Fischbach Gallery in November 1968, secured her reputation. Eva Hesse: Sculpture focuses on that critical moment in Hesse’s career, bringing together most of the sculpture from that show as well as other significant latex works, key drawings, and test pieces from 1967–68. They are preceded by a group of earlier sculpture and drawings that provide a context for her mature work, and followed by a few pieces of sculpture from 1969–70 that show the direction Hesse went in with latex and fiberglass after Chain Polymers.
Biography has figured prominently in criticism and scholarship about Hesse’s work since her death in 1970. Born in Hamburg in 1936, she and her older sister were sent to Holland on a children’s train at the end of 1938. Their parents fled Nazi Germany two months later, and the family came to New York, where Hesse was raised in the German Jewish community of Washington Heights. She wanted to be an artist from an early age and studied at Pratt Institute of Design, the Cooper Union, and the Yale School of Art and Architecture. After completing her studies in 1959, Hesse returned to New York and pursued her art for just over a decade.
This exhibition is an opportunity to present Eva Hesse’s major achievements—her Minimalist and Postminimalist sculpture—within the context of her life and artistic career. The show features a fascinating collection of Hesse’s diaries, letters, exhibition announcements, reviews, photographs, and other archival materials, most of them drawn from the Eva Hesse Archives in the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College and never before displayed. Notably, this is the first time that the public will see family documents retained by the artist’s sister, Helen Hesse Charash, including Tagebücher (diaries) about the artist’s early years kept by her father and pages from scrapbooks and photograph albums.