Currently on show at Hauser & Wirth, through April 24, is a series of small sculptures by Eva Hesse that are essentially fragments rescued from her studio. They are fragile and diaphanous in substance, almost anti-sculptures. A year before her death, in 1969, Hesse wrote of her desire “to get to non-art, non-connotive, non-anthropomorphic, non-geometric, non-nothing; everything…It’s not the new, it is what is yet not known, thought, seen, touched; but really what is not and that is.” Though not quite there, or not quite anything, the works, nonetheless, feel significant and demanding. As Leslie Camhi wrote for the New York Times blog, though the work in the exhibition seem closer to prototypes to autonomous works of art, they are compelling in revealing those familiarly Hesse-ian themes: “plasticity, an engagement with ephemeral materials, the elusive and incomplete nature of memory, and a redolent corporeality.”
More text and images after the jump…
Included in the exhibition are fourteen sculptures, eleven of which are made with papier-cache, a process similar to papier-mâché but assembled using paper, tape, cheesecloth and adhesive. As experiments in the creation of sculptural forms, these maquettes offer an interesting and intimate insight into the artist’s creative thought processes. They are provocatively ambiguous, simultaneously evoking fragments of body parts, organic forms, parchment and debris. Even their shapes are indeterminable. Interestingly leading art historian Briony Fer has sort to contextualize these works within Hesse’s oeuvre, using the name ‘studioworks’ as a collectively descriptive term for their existence. Fer’s hypothesis is that the “precarious nature” [Press Release] of these works puts them at the epicenter of Hesse’s artistic practice, not least for their quizzical probing of the definition of sculpture itself.
In their essence and in their display – on a plinth that alludes to the artist’s workbench in the studio – they are seemingly entirely ephemeral. In 1960s New York, Hesse was affiliated with a group of artists, including Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra and Robert Smithson, whom similarly employed materials that had a transient and mutable quality. As the press release eloquently states, “much of the tumescent, life-affirming power of Hesse’s art derives from this confident embrace of moment.”