Critical Mass., Part 7: Eva Hesse at Boston's ICA

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Before this series: The Chain Letter Show
Part 1: Jennifer Riley, Damian Hoar de Galvan, Nancy Natale
Part 2: Cape Cod Museum of Art
Part 3: New England Collective
Part 4: Not About Paint at Steven Zevitas
Part 5: Strand at Boston Sculptors
Part 6: Swoon at Boston's ICA

Studiowork, 1968; Fiberglass, polyester resin, plastic, app 9 x 9 x 9 inches* 

BOSTON--I have been an admirer of Eva Hesse's work for decades. Early on, I'd see it in galleries, then in museums, and then less so in museums. MoMA, for instance, used to dispay Repetition Nineteen III, the fiberglass "buckets," transcendent in their honey-toned luminosity, and then one day I realized the work was no longer out. Then it was back. I'm not sure if it's that there is better conservation available, or simply an institutional acquiencense to entropy, but lately there seems to be more of Hesse's work on view.

So it is with the exhibition Studiowork at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. It's an institutional space with mostly intimately scaled objects: papier caché pieces on a large plinth, and smaller pieces displayed in vitrines.

The ICA doesn't allow photography, and its website doesn't have any installation shots, so I've posted here two installation shots of the same show at its previous venue, the UC Berkley Art Museum:

Eva Hesse: Studiowork, installation views, UC Berkeley Art Museum.  Pacific Film Archive. Photos: Sibila Savage

If you're in Boston between now October 10, I urge you to see Studiowork. You might even want to take the train up from New York, as this show is not scheduled for a stop there. (The ICA is a short taxi ride from South Station). It's curated by Briony Fer, an art historian and Hesse scholar, and Barry Rosen, director of the Eva Hesse estate. The show is accompanied by a fabulous book of the same title as the show by Fer.

Also, I suggest you do two other things before or after you read this post:

1) Read my post from last year, Eva Hesse, Test Pieces, a look at a show of the papier caché pieces at Hauser & Wirth in New York City. You'll get to see something of the installation, like this view of the pieces on a plinth, which is how they were shown similarly at the ICA. (Papier caché = paper that is pressed and adhered by tape or glue.)

Above right: Not the ICA, but you can get a sense of how the papier caché pieces were shown. JM photo

Below right: Screen grab of the Jewish Museum post. JM photo

2) Read my report on Eva Hesse at the Jewish Museum from November 2006. I couldn't photograph there either, but I was able to secure a good installation shot and found images from the internet for most of the other works. I talked a lot about her work there, so there's no need to repeat myself.

So this exhibition, as the other two I just mentioned, brings together a group of works that are not normally seen together, or seen at all.  Given that Hesse worked largely in non-archival materials--unvulcanized latex, fiberglass and synthetic resins; and fragile stuff like cheesecloth and string, paper and glue--it's a small miracle they are here still here, and equally important, still full of mystery and playfulness. Biographical information about the artist tells us that the objects on exhibiton were not in fact meant to be displayed, that they were experiments with materials and that many were given away to friends or were in her studio when she died in 1970 at the age of 34.

What strikes me about these pieces is how handmade they are: folded or pressed; cast from crude molds or dipped; poured or stacked; stapled, stitched or glued; coiled, wrapped or woven. The materials were industrial but the processes--and these works were all about the process--were about as low tech as you could get. In the work below, for instance, the segments appear to have been stitched together with a big, loose blanket stitch. And look at how it's displayed with a plastic hanger/clothespin. Seeing the work is much like viewing a dimensional sketchbook.

Studiowork, 1968; latex, cheesecloth, plastic, metal, app. 60 inches high**

With this work it's obvious that Hesse influenced not just one generation of artists, my own, but the one coming into its own now. Pace, Rauschenberg, but I'm not sure the junk esthetic so currently popular would have even been considered had it not been for this pioneering work. (Contemporary sculpture seems less ephemeral, curiously, in its embrace of old-fashioned materials like fabric, wood, wax and cloth.)

I'm so pleased to have found the UC Berkley installation shots, because they allow you to see  the way the works interact with light and gravity, something the isolated shots don't necessarily do (except for the wonderful small piece that opens the post). Equally important, they allow you to see how the pieces interact with one another. You know from your own studio practice how materials, objects, and finished and unfinished work spark ideas and connect the dots for you in new ways. Perhaps the array in Hesse's own studio did something like that for her. Of course her own studio had nothing of the pristine spaces into which her work has been placed for exhibition.

Hesse in her studio (New York?), late 60s, early 70s. Image from the Internet

Now on to the work:

Studiowork,  1966; paint, wood, papier mâché, rubber, and metal***

Above: Studiowork, 1969; cheesecloth and adhesive
Below: Another view of the papier caché sculptures at the ICA****

Above and below:
Similar work from the Hauser & Wirth show in New York City last year

Here you get a better sense of the way the objects were laid out on a large table as if they might have been place by Hesse herself while she was working in her studio. At least that's the concept.  JM photos

Above: Studiowork, late 1960s
I got this image from a review of the show by Mark Faverman on the online Berkshire Fine Arts

Those cast latex (and maybe latex with graphite?) pieces might have led to the work below:  Sequel, 1967-68; latex, pigment and cheesecloth; sheet 30 x 32 inches; each element app. 2 5/8 inches in diameter

I photographed this work at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009, where it is part of the permanent collection--and just in time, apparently. Current information about the piece says it's not currently on display

Studiowork, 1970; latex, cotton, and wire*****

This sculpture was shown inside a vitrine. It's kind of intestinal and yet its linearity makes it very much like drawing, especially when shadows complicate the work as shown here. Though it's dated four years after the work below, you can see the connections

Below: Hang Up, 1966; mixed media with cloth, wood, acrylic, cord, steel tube. Photographed by me at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. JM photo

There's one other show I want to provide a link to:  Paper: Pressed, Stained, Slashed, Folded at MoMA, in which you see a papier mache installation of Hesse's work. Of course there are numerous other articles written about Hesse. I have noted the ones I've written over the past few years.

Because is is both academic and immensely personal, Studiowork appeals to the head and the heart. But its power lies in its poignancy, for while these pieces relate directly or tangentially to works already realized, they also hint at what might have been possible.

Photo Credits
*University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Gift of Mrs. Helen Charash. Photograph by Abby Robinson, New York. Image from the ICA website
** Image scanned from Eva Hesse Studiowork by Briony Fer (Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, distribued by Yale University Press) 
***  University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Gift of Mrs. Helen Charash. Photograph by Ben Blackwell, Alameda, California. Imacge from the ICA website
**** The Charash Family Collection. Photograph by Abby Robinson, New York
*****The Estate of Eva Hesse, courtesy Hauser & Wirth Zürich London. Photograph by Abby Robinson, New York. Image from the ICA website


Tamar said...

Oh my, how I love this work! Crafted objects of daily studio life. Hesse's work provokes a powerful emotional response in me--there is tenderness and fragility along with conviction. Joanne, thank you for posting about Hesse once again.

Kim Matthews said...

Thanks for another fine post on one of my heroes. It's great to see the pieces in their vitrines and get a sense of their scale. I've said this here before, but as someone who reads everything on Hesse I can get my mitts on, I highly recommend Briony Fer's exhibition catalog for this show.

Unknown said...

I was just showing Hesse's work in my intro to 3D design class this week. It is so surreal to see these marvelous progressive works and then recognize the dates of execution are over 40 years old. She broke so much new ground, in so little time.

About Connie Goldman said...

Joanne, you're so right about her being a precursor to contemporary art work. Her work and its influence continues to unfold these many years later.

helen said...

Thank You Joanne.

Anonymous said...

Random crap all thrown together without the slightest suggestion of form or purpose. Yes art is subjective but a spades a spade.

Anonymous said...

but seriously, my infant nephew drew a retarded picture of a dog if you'd like to include that at your next show.

Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous 10:12, You were OK with your first comment--everyone has different opinions--but when you threw in your version of my-kid-could've-painted-that, you showed your hand. You're not an artist, and you have no sense of the art historical time in which this work was, could have been, made.

Anonymous said...

Eva Hess do you create fake aliases so you could publicly give yourself good can people see progressive, powerful and emotional work here. You literally would not pass a 3rd grade art class based on the simple fact there is no talent required make meaningless nothings and hang them on a wall. Although you could just paint a wall...that would be more interesting to watch dry at this point.

Anonymous said...

Joanne Mattera...right I'm not an artist I just go to work everyday and GET PAID to be one, despite the fact that I would bet I know more about art history than you because I studied it for four years, that's irrelevant. crap is crap.

Joanne Mattera said...

Anon, now you're talking to air. Eva Hesse has been dead since 1970.