Archive for Eva Hesse

Sturm und Drang: Eva Hesse’s Sans II at SFMOMA

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Mixed Media, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2010 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Eva Hesse, Sans II, 1968
Fiberglass and polyester resin, 38 in. x 86 in. x 6 1/8 in.
(Courtesy SFMOMA)

In the 10 short years that comprised her mature career, Eva Hesse (1936-1970) produced a considerable body of work, all of which is deeply and inextricably linked to neuroses born of the troubled events of her life. The facts are well-recorded—escape from Nazi Germany on a kindertransport, the divorce of her parents, the suicide of her mother when Hesse was 10. From these traumas germinated a potent brew of anxiety, inadequacy, separation and loss that drove Hesse’s interior life. She poured that life into her work, particularly her sculptural pieces, and it was often manifested, consciously or not, in the guise of anthropomorphic forms, bodily orifices, sexual references.

Seen from a distance, Sans II, Hesse’s 1968 sculpture currently on view at SF MOMA as part of the celebratory “75 Years of Looking Forward” exhibition, seems serene and orderly piece. But on closer examination the emotion is evident.

Hesse knew she would be an artist from and early age and pursued the goal with single-minded determinism. And yet, self-doubt was a constant companion on her journey. She studied under Josef Albers at Yale (graduating in 1959), but chafed against the yoke of formality imposed by Albers’ color theories.

Eva Hesse, Untitled, 1960
Oil on canvas
49 1/2 x 49 1/2 inches

Hesse began as a painter, drawn to the Abstract Expressionists (particularly Gorky and de Kooning). Beginning in the mid-60s, perhaps through the influence of close friend Sol LeWitt, she increasingly appropriated the vocabulary of the emerging Minimalist movement with its focus on pared-down geometric shapes. Hesse never gave herself over completely to Minimalism; the spontaneous gestural style evident in earliest drawings and paintings remained close at hand.

Drawing was an important part of Hesse’s oeuvre; among the hundreds of drawings she completed between 1960-1965 can be found the genesis of the ideas she explored in three-dimensional form. In particular, a small collection of powerful abstract ink and pencil works completed around the time of Untitled (below) introduced the nucleus of the ideas and forms that would form her first sculptural works.

Eva Hesse, Untitled, 1961-62
Black ink and wash on paper

The framing device plainly evident in a series of drawings similar to Untitled (below) was one antecedent of “compartment” sculptures like Sans II Hesse would complete in 1968/9.

Eva Hesse, Untitled, 1964
Oil on canvas, 32 x 36 inch
(Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul)

By the mid-1960s Hesse had became increasingly frustrated with the “tediousness” of transforming her drawings into paintings. Relentless restlessness and a happy accident turned her toward sculpture and it was through this medium that she began to realize her full potential as an artist. In 1964 she and her husband (sculptor Tom Doyle) were invited by German textile industrialist F. Arnhard Scheidt to live and work in his abandoned machine factory in Kettwig-am-Ruhr. Hesse began working with discarded objects from the factory floor, constructing “relief” paintings, in which the parts were often wrapped and other sculptural bits added.

Eva Hesse, 2 in 1, 1965
Enamel paint, tempera paint, ink, cord and metal belt on particle board, 21 1/4 x 27 x 9 inches

Upon her return to New York in 1965, Hesse felt encouraged to begin executing free-standing sculptures. Repetition of forms, including orderly grids and chaotic hanging, stacked, erect and spilling forms would engage her for the remainder of her life.

Eva Hesse, Untitled, 1966
Black ink with wash and pencil on paper, 11 3/4 x 9 in.

Sans II stands as a testament to the tension in Hesse’s work between order and chaos. The outward form may be an orderly grid, but the surface of its translucent membrane (made from fiberglass and polyester resin) is alive with texture and imperfections. The hand of the artist is suggested. The warm and inviting skin elicits the impulse to touch. Hesse once remarked : “If you use fiberglass clear and thin, light does beautiful things to it… it is there—part of its anatomy.” In a way this membrane—both structurally solid and delicate, orderly and sloppy—is a reflection of Hesse’s contradictory persona.

As it turns out, the membrane is also ephemeral. When Hesse began using fiberglass and latex to fashion her sculptures,  she was breaking with historical traditions, which dictated metal or stone as preferred sculptural media. She knew these new materials would deteriorate over time. According to SFMOMA, Sans II no longer retains either its original flexibility or strength. Like the site work artists of the late 60s (Robert Smithson was another close friend), Hesse seems to have embraced aging as part of the process of her art. This was nearly a generation before before the notion became fully popularized through the work of artists like Andy Goldsworthy.

Eva Hesse, ca. 1959 (© Stephen Korbet)

Sans II is confirmation that Hesse was ahead of her time. It is also a somber reminder that she was just beginning to hit her stride. One wonders where she would have gone from here.

Wider Connections

The Estate of Eva Hesse

Lucy Lippard—Eva Hesse

Eva Hesse at Tate Modern (2002-3)

Elizabeth Sussman & Fred Wasserman—Eva Hesse: Sculpture

Cindy Nemsner—Art Talk: Conversations With 15 Women Artists, Revised And Enlarged Edition (Icon Editions)

Machines & Marriage: Eva Hesse & Tom Doyle in Germany

Next Generation Post Minimalism—Ranjani Shettar at SFMOMA

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Female Artists, Fiber Arts, Liz Hager, Printmaking, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , on April 16, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ
HAGER

ranjani-shettar

Ranjani Shettar, Sing
Along
, 2008-9, steel, muslin, kasimi, tamarind kernel
powder paste, shellac, and lacquer, dimensions variable. (Photo ©
author.)

Though consisting of only six works, Ranjani
Shettar’s current exhibition of recent works at SFMoMA shows off
the depth and range of her capabilities. The sculptural
installations and prints on display demonstrate her considerable
technical agility. But it’s her wondrous imagination with its
complex references to art and the world around her that really
impresses. These references are often subtle to the point of
abstruseness. Luckily, though, initial enjoyment of the
pieces doesn’t require a knowledge or understanding of all the
references. The lacy Sing Along consists of
half a dozen or so wrapped wire pieces, all of which protrude from
the gallery walls or hang from the ceiling. Hanging is a Shettar
conceit. In Just a bit more (2005), the
artist used bee’s wax and thread dipped in tea to express the
beauty in humble materials; in Sun-sneezers blow light
bubbles
(2007-8) she first used the materials in Sing
Along to contrast the fragility of bubble forms with the strength
of the underlying armature. Shettar has remarked previously that
the purpose of hanging a work is to engage gravity in its ultimate
shape (downward tension dictates). Still, in regard to
inspiration for hanging sculpture, one can’t help thinking of Calder‘s
wire figures. The Sing Along grouping beckons
viewers into its space; it creates an active environment with the
gallery room, which promotes viewer exploration (rather than
passive gazing) of the work. In this and other regards, Shettar
carries on in the tradition of many post-minimalist artists, which
though not linked together tightly enough to form a movement, have
concerned themselves with incorporating the handmade with the
repetitive, mechanicalness of traditional Minimalist work. Among
those post-minimalist practices which Shettar adheres to are the
use of every day objects (Tom
Friedman
), a focus on the sheer tactile beauty of an
object (Anish
Kapoor
), as well construction of abstract forms through
the hand-made “touch” (Eva
Hesse
, Martin
Puryear
). Shettar typically mixes industrial materials
with traditional craft techniques, although she downplays too much
meaning of the latter in her work. In an interview last year
with John
Eastman
, she remarked: ” I am constantly observing
materials around me and looking at possibilities. For me my
materials do not have to always come from an art supply store, they
could be from anywhere. I often look at craft material and also use
craft techniques as they are generations old and refined. I use
materials that can convey and add to my idea. . . Every
material has uses and associations that are particular to each one
of them and so they bring in their own meaning into works.” In the
case of Sing Along, a wire armature is wrapped
with muslin coated in tamarind paste, a glue used both in textile
printing in India and in painting wood by the toymakers of Kinnala.
Shettar made a special pilgrimage to this village to learn the
technique. The textile element is subtle; without a close look at
the piece, the pieces might be mistaken for iron or patina bronze.
Sing Along takes its inspiration from the
koel, the long-tailed cuckoo common in SE Asia and Australia,
which, no doubt because of its distinctive call, was at one time a
popular Indian cagebird. The koel is referred to as a “brood
parasite,” because the female usually lays her single egg in the
nests of other birds, sometimes removing existing host eggs
beforehand. The host bird raises the fledging along with her
chicks, apparently no one ever the wiser. Other than the
black finish of the sculpture, which mimics the male bird’s coat,
there is nothing that overtly references this particular bird.
Armed with deeper knowledge, one wonders what about the bird
specifically inspired Shettar—was it the female’s speckled coat,
its parasitic nature, the call? No matter, birds generally
are in evidence throughout the piece. Once the source of the title
is clear, feather shapes and spread wings abound.

ranjani-shettar-1

Ranjani Shettar, Sing
Along
(detail). (Photo © author.)

Truth be
told, however, this viewer walked away from Sing
Along
obliviously satisfied in the belief that the
installation referenced salmon swimming arduously through glinting
rushing streams toward their spawning grounds. Therein lies the
clever beauty of Shettar’s pieces; no matter what your frame of
reference, they still speak to you. Note: Don’t miss Shettar’s
Me, no, not me, buy me, wear me, have me, me, no, not
me
piece on SFMoMA’s new rooftop garden.
Wider Connections More Ranjani
Shettar
Holland Carter—Art
in Review: Ranjani Shettar
Shettar at the Museum
of Modern Art, Dallas

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