Archive for Robert Smithson

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

Smithson’s Antediluvian Spiral Jetty

Posted in Artists Speak, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Site Work with tags , on September 25, 2008 by Liz Hager

Robert Smithson, “Sprial Jetty,” Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1970. (photo: George Steinmetz 2002)

Occasionally an artist does a better job than critics eliciting through words the majesty of a work of art.  In the paragraphs below extracted from a longer essay,  Robert Smithson poetically evokes the primordial forces that called his Spiral Jetty into being:

. . . About one mile north of the oil seeps I selected my site. Irregular beds of limestone dip gently eastward, massive deposits of black basalt are broken over the peninsula, giving the region a shattered appearance. It is one of the few places on the lake where the water comes right up to the mainland. Under shallow pinkish water is a network of mud cracks supporting the jigsaw puzzle that composes the salt flats.  As I looked at the site, it reverberated out to the horizons only to suggest an immobile cyclone while flickering light made the entire landscape appear to quake.  A dormant earthquake spread into the fluttering stillness, into a spinning sensation without movement. This site was a rotary that enclosed itself in an immense roundness. From that gyrating space emerged the possibility of the Spiral Jetty. . . 

. . . The scale of the Spiral Jetty tends to fluctuate depending on where the viewer happens to be. Size determines an object, but scale determines art. A crack in the wall, if viewed in terms of scale, not size, could be called the Grand Canyon. A room could be made to take on the immensity of the solar system. Scale depends on one’s capacity to be conscious of the actualities of perception. When one refuses to release scale from size, one is left with an object or language that appears to be certain. For me scale operates by uncertainty. To be in the scale of the Spiral Jetty is to be out of it. On eye leve, the tail leads on into an undifferentiated state of matter. One’s downward gaze pitches from side to side, picking out random depositions of salt crystals on the inner and outer edges, while the entire mass echoes the irregular horizons. And each cubic salt crystal echoes the Spiral Jetty in terms of the crystal’s molecular lattice. Growth in a crystal advances around a dislocation point, in the manner of a screw. The Spiral Jetty could be considered one layer within the spiralling crystal lattice, magnified trillions of times. 

Chemically speaking, our blood is analogous in composition to the primordial seas. Following the spiral steps we return to our origins, back to some pulpy protoplasm, a floating eye adrift in an antediluvian ocean. On the slopes of Rozel Point I closed my yes, and the sun burned crimson through the lids. I opened them and the Great Salt Lake was bleeding scarlet streaks. My sight was saturated by the colour of red algae circulating in the heart of the lake, pumping into ruby currents, no they were veins and arteries sucking up the obscure sediments. My eyes became combustion chambers churning orbs of blood blazing by the light of the sun. All was enveloped in a flaming chromosphere; I thought of Jackson Pollock’s Eyes in the Heat. . . Swirling within the incandescence of solar energy were sprays of blood. My movie would end in sunstroke. Perception was heaving, the stomach turning. I was on a geologic fault that groaned within me. Between heat lightning and heat exhaustion the spiral curled into radiations. Rays of glare hit my eyes with the frequency of a Geiger counter. Surely, the storm clouds massing would turn into a rain of blood.

(The Writings of Robert Smithson, edited by Nancy Holt, 1979)

 

Robert Smithson essays

Return of Spiral Jetty

No River Runs Through It: Andy Goldsworthy’s “Stone River” at Stanford

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Public Art, Site Work with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2008 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
goldsworthy-stone-river

Andy Goldsworthy, Stone River, 2002, 128 tons of sandstone, 320 feet (photo ©Andrew Alden)

An heir to the legacy of earthwork artists Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, Goldsworthy employs the materials of nature to create works that are all about the aesthetics of the natural world. Like Monet and his haystacks, Goldsworthy has returned to the Serpentine wall motif numerous times in an effort, like Monet I suppose, to uncover different “realities” in the form. “Stone River” has been fashioned from the sandstone blocks of buildings that toppled in the 1906/89 earthquakes. In his choice of materials, Goldsworthy has created a piece that compliments the dusty, arid field. The pattern created by the closely stacked blocks adds a pleasing tactile quality to site.   Goldsworthy has set the wall into a trench as if to emulate a riverbed. (Although it might be a dry one in this corner of the world.)  It’s a clever conceit that also serves to help the eyes follow the movement of the piece.   From a vantage point above the wall, one can plainly see both the pleasing undulation of the wall and the less pleasant slithering of a snake.

All of these elements conspire to push the piece from an architectural to a sculptural element. As a sculpture, it is beautifuly emblematic—one natural form (sandstone blocks) becomes another (a snake). Although not visible in the picture above, the wall has a “tail,” which descends into the earth. This provides a literal and metaphoric “grounding” for the piece, but it’s also a whimsical detail that keeps the work from becoming too self-consciously “artsy.”

The real point of the piece, I think, lies in Goldsworthy’s choice of material.  With these “building blocks” he has tapped into the powerful cycle of destruction and rebirth—the blocks, originally hewn by man from natural elements, will disintegrate over time.   Thus, the wall in its trench becomes an archeological site, reminding us that the human hand, though ever present in the landscape, emerges and submerges at the will of nature.

Wider Connections

Goldsworthy at Cass Sculpture Foundation

Venetian Red—“Mighty Impermanence in the Presidio—Andy Goldsworthy’s “Spire”

Storm King wall

Andy Goldsworthy in Smithsonian Magazine

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