Eva Hesse (American, Hamburg, Germany 1936 - 1970 New York)
Untitled, ca. 1963
Inscribed on verso in unknown hand: 23-49
Watercolor, gouache, and graphite on notebook paper
11 x 14 in. (28 x 35.5 cm)
Gift of the Eva Hesse Estate to the Rental Collection, 1982; transferred to the permanent collection via R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1994
Drawing played a central role in the work of the abstract sculptor Eva Hesse, whose sculptures have a remarkably linear quality. The deliberately playful, "lax" rendering and placement of geometric forms, and their luminous, brilliant hues, are common to Hesse's drawings of this period.
Before turning her attention to sculpture in 1964-5, Hesse created an enormous number of abstract drawings of varying size and degree of finish, often employing a range of wet and dry media on a given sheet. Hesse's drawings of 1962-63 included both signed works on heavy paper and small, usually unsigned works on notebook paper. Most of the drawings of this period are marked by Hesse's experiments in collage, even in works-- such as the present sheet--that contain no actual collaged elements. Much of the formal incident in the upper left section of the sheet is given a colored (or negative) hard-edged ground, as if these elements were discreet planes and shapes placed side by side, obeying the flat format and square edges of the sheet.
In the lower right, the sprawl and crowding of ungrounded forms work against the gridlike organization above. The result is an engaging play between elements that seem applied to a plane or surface, and emergent marks of color that seem to float "off" and away from the format of the page. It should be noted that during this period Hesse frequently turned the sheet while drawing. Many unsigned and notebook drawings of 1962-4 may have more than one plausible orientation. It is possible, for examble, to view the Oberlin sheet with the notebook edge on top, rather than on the left.
Work reproduced with permission of Robert Miller, New York
Eva Hesse was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1936 to Jewish parents. The family fled to Holland in 1938 and to New York in 1939. Hesse studied at the Art Students League, then at Cooper Union and Yale University, where she received her B.A. in 1959. Her many (abstract) drawings of around 1960-64 show her working with "the shapes...with which she had always been obsessed--irregular rectangles, parabolas, trailing linear ends, curving forms and circles bound or bulged out of symmetry."1
Her first sculptures date from 1964, during an eighteen-month stay in Germany with her husband, the sculptor Tom Doyle. Her first solo show of three-dimensional work, held at the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf, in 1964, consisted of thirty-six drawings and fourteen reliefs made of plaster and cord, either tightly bound or loosely hanging. On her return to New York in 1965, she began to focus and clarify her forms and to work on a large scale. That year was her first period of great productivity and achievement; her earliest significant sculptures--Laocoon, Metronomic Irregularity, Ennead, and Hang-Up--were completed during 1965-66, and her work appeared in the important group exhibitions, Abstract Inflationism and Stuffed Expressionism(Graham Gallery, New York, May 1966), and Eccentric Abstraction (Fischbach Gallery, New York, October 1966). Both exhibitions were organized by Lucy Lippard, Hesse's early supporter and most astute critic.
From 1968 onwards she worked frequently in fiberglass, producing some of her most daring attenuations of sculptural "structure," as in the hanging, tangled fiberglass of Right After (1969, Milwaukee Art Museum). She was included in Robert Morris's Nine in a Warehouse exhibition, held at the Castelli warehouse in 1969 (as was Alan Saret and Richard Serra), and the important When Attitudes Become Form traveling exhibition of the same year.
Hesse became ill with cancer in the late 1960s, and died in 1970 at the age of thirty-four. She kept a diary since her childhood, the contents of which have inspired many accounts of possible parallels between her often traumatic life and her sculpture. Her work is closely associated with Minimalism, and is now regarded as a critical factor in the varied recastings of that movement throughout the later 1960s and early ‘70s.
Lippard, Lucy R. Eva Hesse. New York, 1976.
Reinhardt, Brigitte, and Friedrike Kitschen. Eva Hesse, Drawing in Space: Bilder und Reliefs. Exh. cat., Ulmer Museum, Ulm, 1979.
Johnson, Ellen H. Eva Hesse: A Retrospective of the Drawings. Exh. cat., Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, 1982.
Gift of the estate of Eva Hesse to the Rental Collection; transferred to the permanent collection in 1994
The sheet was torn from a spiral-bound sketch pad at an unspecified date; there is a perforated torn edge at the left side. The sheet is of good quality, medium-weight wove paper and is neither backed nor mounted. There is no preparatory or ground layer. The work is comprised of watercolor and perhaps colored inks as well. The white and orange areas are a matte paint, as though some of the orange areas seem to have been applied in wax crayon. The black areas are extremely soluble and may be ink. In addition to graphite, there appears to be a second dry, black-grey medium which lacks the metallic luster of graphite. Brush and pen were certainly used, and possibly unconventional instruments and techniques as well.
The work's overall condition is very good. The colors are fresh and brilliant, despite continual light exposure when the work was in the Rental Collection. There are several discrete areas of flaking in the liquid, colored medium, with slight losses in the outer skin layer, and slight surface soiling overall.
1. Lucy Lippard, "Eva Hesse: The Circle," Art in America 59, no. 3 (May-June 1971), p. 68.