A short but brilliant life

New York's Jewish Museum honors the artistry of Eva Hesse.

eva hess 88 298 (photo credit: )
eva hess 88 298
(photo credit: )
On December 7, 1938, two little Jewish sisters, Helen and Eva Hesse, were put aboard a train in Hamburg that would take them in a kindertransport to the Netherlands. The youngest, Eva, was not yet three. The Hesse sisters were placed in a Catholic children's home until their parents managed to join them and take them to Britain. From there the family sailed to the United States, where Eva Hesse later studied at the Cooper Union Art School and then, thanks to another scholarship, at Yale with Josef Albers. Eva Hesse's remarkable ability to make new types of art out of non-traditional materials soon brought her fame; and her work influenced art students as far away as Jerusalem. But by May 1970 she was dead of a brain tumor, aged only 34. Hesse is now being honored with a memorial show of her unusual sculptures, reliefs and drawings at New York's Jewish Museum. This is the first major New York City museum exhibition of this artist's sculpture since 1972. It will be open through September 17. Many of her works are hung from walls or ceilings. Both soft and hard, made of latex, fiberglass, plastic or coated rope, they look only a little less unusual today than they did four decades ago. They are all still marked by a singular originality. The show focuses on Hesse's large-scale latex and fiberglass sculptures, subtle and luminous works that are singular achievements of that era. They moved Minimalism away from its anti-expressive, systems-based aesthetic and, in two short years, helped to establish a shift in contemporary art. Also on view are significant earlier sculptures and drawings. The final gallery of the exhibition features documents that offer insights into Hesse's life and chart the course of her artistic career. Hesse's only solo sculpture exhibition, Chain Polymers at the Fischbach Gallery in November 1968, drew the attention of curators, dealers, and critics. The innovative works that she created for that show are at the heart of the current exhibition. The 35 works in Eva Hesse: Sculpture come from numerous American and European institutions, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Berkeley Art Museum, as well as Museum Wiesbaden, Germany; Daros Collection, Zurich; Kr ller-M ller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands; and several important private collections. A specially created audio guide includes commentary on the art in the exhibition as well as excerpts from a 1970 interview with Eva Hesse discussing her work. Produced by The Jewish Museum in association with Antenna Audio, the audio guide is available to visitors for free. A handsome catalogue, co-published with Yale University Press is a 192-page book with 33 color plates and an additional 103 color images; 26 black and white illustrations; essays by Fred Wasserman, Elizabeth Sussman, Yve-Alain Bois, and Mark Godfrey; and a chronology of Hesse's life compiled by Beth Turk, Curatorial Program Associate at The Jewish Museum. It will be available for $50 (hardcover) and $35 (paperback) from the Museum's Cooper Shop. The hardcover edition is also be available from bookstores worldwide. The museum is located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, Manhattan.