bg blog_white2

Eva Hesse: Material Girl

Posted by BG Staff // April 21st, 2017

Eva studio and woodstock

Eva in Woodstock, 1963 / Eva in her studio (images via Eva Hesse documentary)

An ambitious female artist in the male-dominated art world of 1960s New York, Eva Hesse battled with self-doubt and inner criticism despite a growing reputation at a young age. Her decade-long career was dominated by the use of unconventional materials, especially those of an ephemeral and transitory nature that would degrade over time and later pose many challenges for conservators. Much of her work cannot be shown or traveled easily as a result, but Eva was consumed with purpose as she forged ahead with her materials. “Life doesn’t last. Art doesn’t last. It doesn’t matter,” she said.


Eva Hesse paintings

Eva with relief paintings in Kettwig an der Ruhr, Germany. Photo: Manfred Tischer (via Eva Hesse documentary)

Her influential body of work explored process, color, texture, and shape that played off but challenged the grid and other key elements of Minimalism, often in repetition with a touch of the “absurd.” Both organic and geometric lines can be found in a single piece, and though she worked in series or multiples in her installations, the forms were often handmade and irregular, in contrast to the industrial trend of rendering the artist’s hand and process invisible in the finished work.  Her sculptures and installations were imbued with energy and inspired by the human body, a balance of both ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ as she explained it, and heralded a new postminimal art movement.


Eva Hesse quote

Quote from Eva Hesse journals, photo by Gretchen Lambert circa 1966.

Born to a Jewish family in Hamburg in 1936, Eva Hesse was put on a Kindertransport to Holland at two years old with her sister Helen to escape Nazi pogroms. The family reunited a year later and settled in New York before the war, but they lost most of their extended family in the Holocaust. Subsequently her mother battled depression and committed suicide in 1946 when Eva was not quite ten years old. According to her sister, Eva’s traumatic childhood led to feelings of abandonment, anxiety, and rejection that would haunt her most of her tragically short life.


Eva Hesse studio Josef Albers

Eva at work / Eva with Josef Albers (via Eva Hesse documentary)

She began to pursue an arts education at a young age, graduating at sixteen from New York’s School of Industrial Art. She received a certificate in design from Cooper Union and studied painting at Yale with renowned color theorist Josef Albers.  Around this time she also made a lifelong and important friendship with fellow artist and creative champion Sol LeWitt and began exhibiting her drawings and paintings. She met and married sculptor Tom Doyle, though their relationship was fraught with difficulty and they were separated just five years later.


Eva Hesse Sol LeWitt letter drawing

Page from Sol LeWitt's letter to Eva imploring her to "just do" / Eva Hesse, Untitled (detail), 1967, drawing on paper

She had her first solo exhibition of drawings in 1963. Her sister Helen said drawing was always her favorite medium, though she began exploring sculpture in earnest after a pivotal residency with Tom in West Germany in the mid-1960s. She engaged with mixed feelings about returning to Germany in relief paintings that incorporated found objects around the industrial residency studio, venturing into the three-dimensional space that would come to dominate her work. Over the next few years, before her death from a brain tumor in 1970 at the age of thirty-four, Eva dove headfirst into an intense exploration of materials, including rope, latex, and fiberglass, often working with fabricators and studio assistants to complete an astonishingly rich and visceral body of work in a short period of time. 


Eva Hesse Untitled or Not Yet and drawing

Eva Hesse, no title, 1965, ink and pencil on paper, gift of her sister Helen Charash, 1977 / Eva Hesse, Untitled or Not Yet, 1966, nets, polyethylene, paper, lead weights, and cord, 71 x 15.5 x 8.25 inches, on view at SFMOMA.

She continued to work through her illness with courageous drive. Her sculpture Expanded Expansion was included in the Whitney Museum's anti-form show Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials in 1969, an exhibition that featured few women but many influential artists like Carl Andre, Richard Serra, Philip Glass, and Robert Ryman. Pushing boundaries even then, she said: "I wanted to get to 'non art,' non connotive, non geometric, non nothing, everything, but of another kind, vision, sort, from a total other reference point. Is it possible?" Her influential mark on the art world was swift but long-lasting. As art critic and author Lucy Lippard once said, “She wasn’t manipulating materials, she was the materials.” 


Eva Hesse_Expanded Expression

Eva Hesse in front of Expanded Expansion, 1969.


We're excited to host a Lunch & Art afternoon with our volunteers for a private screening of Marcie Begleiter's 2016 documentary Eva Hesse – a wonderful perk of volunteering at the Bedford! More on our volunteer opportunities and how you can join the team here



Bg Book Club: Material Girls

Posted by BG Staff // April 7th, 2017

Both exhibition artists Lynn Aldrich and Sabina Ott cite authors and literature as deep inspirations for their work. Here’s your literary guide to exploring the diverse themes in Material Girls:


TS Eliot 

Read: ‘Burnt Norton’ from Four Quartets, by T. S. Eliot

See: Lynn Aldrich, Sudden Storm (Cloudburst)

“A cloudburst on the desert horizon reminds me of T. S. Eliot’s poetic observation, ‘In the drained (concrete) pool, there is water out of sunlight.’” – Lynn Aldrich

Click here to hear the complete poem, read by Eliot himself.


Human Age_Raffi Anderian

Illustration by Raffi Anderian for the New York Times

Read: The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us by Diane Ackerman

See: Lynn Aldrich, My Pet (for the Anthropocene)

The term ‘Anthropocene’ refers to the era when humans began to have a dominant influence on Earth’s geology and biological system. Scientists suggest this era began around 1950 or 1960, but the term wasn’t coined until 2000, by the atmospheric scientist and Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen.

Aldrich began collecting fake fur fabrics many years ago, thinking about their fantastic, manufactured weirdness, but also feeling a kind of sad loss that wildness (diversity of species and environments without human intervention) is rapidly shrinking across the globe.


Duchamp_bicycle wheel

Read: Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews by Calvin Tomkins

See: Lynn Aldrich, Silver Lining

Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades,’ his series of sculptures made from everyday objects placed out of context, are a huge inspiration for Aldrich. Silver Lining is a play on words, an installation of beautiful silver spouts reminding her of falling rain and a hope for good outcomes – necessities for an artist living in Los Angeles.


Gertrude Stein_Lisa Congdon

Gertrude Stein illustration by Lisa Congdon.

Read: Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein

See: Sabina Ott, why is a pale white not paler than blue

“In the 1990s after reading Gertrude Stein, I began a body of work with roses and wax. There’s something so beautiful and inexplicable about the way Stein takes an everyday object, removes it from its context, and then places it next to another familiar thing in the wrong way. The syntaxes switch, and everything is thrown up in the air and falls down, and then you can experience it in a fresh way.” – Sabina Ott

Most of the titles of Ott’s works come from various books and poems by Stein, including this one. The juxtaposition of pale colors and bulbous foam forms gives this piece a strange, seen-it-in-a-dream quality.

From Tender Buttons:

“Why is a pale white not paler than blue, why is a connection made by a stove, why is the example which is mentioned not shown to be the same, why is there no adjustment between the place and the separate attention. Why is there a choice in gamboling. Why is there no necessary dull stable, why is there a single piece of any color, why is there that sensible silence. Why is there the resistance in a mixture, why is there no poster, why is there that in the window, why is there no suggester, why is there no window, why is there no oyster closer. Why is there a circular diminisher, why is there a bather, why is there no scraper, why is there a dinner, why is there a bell ringer, why is there a duster, why is there a section of a similar resemblance, why is there that scissor.”

Highly recommended: Lisa Congdon’s beautifully illustrated version.


World is Round_collage Stein

left: Illustration by Clement Hurd; right: Illustration proposal for the book by legendary illustrator Leonard Weisgard

Read: The World is Round by Gertrude Stein

See: Sabina Ott, yellow and green mass is a gem

Ott created this sculptural painting and others in Material Girls while she was producing a massive mountain of polystyrene for another project, inspired by this book, Stein’s only work for children. This painting shares a similar, bright and reflective surface with that mountain. This piece also incorporates a grid, but Ott undermines the structure with extreme depth and uncontrolled spray.


Dante Divine Comedy

Read: The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

See: Sabina Ott, here and there pink melon joy (inferno)

The artworks that form this installation hang from chains of varying heights— many look as if they have been burned. Ott researched medieval torture implements and learned that people who were tortured were often contained in a metal grid or cage and suspended. In its original form at the Chicago Cultural Center, here and there pink melon joy spanned three galleries, and like Dante’s Divine Comedy, guided visitors through three stations: Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso). The mirrors in her two Purgatory pieces in Material Girls are used to symbolize a reflected reality.


Parts of this post excerpted from our limited edition exhibition guide, available now in the gallery. Pick one up to learn more about our artists’ processes and inspirations. Material Girls is on view through June 4.


previous blog posts

stan lee