On April 26th, the Hamon Arts Library presented a screening of the 2015 documentary, Eva Hesse (Zeitgeist Films, dir. Marcie Begleiter) in conjunction with the Hawn Gallery’s current exhibition, Piecing It Together. This incredible film about the life and work of pioneering post-minimalist and conceptual artist Eva Hesse seemed a logical and evocative accompaniment to the exhibition, and is now available for circulation in Hamon’s AV collection. Piecing It Together, which features work by abstract painters, Danielle Kimzey, Mary Laube, and Christopher Reno addresses many of the postmodernist themes and feminist ideologies in both the film and Hesse’s own work.
The documentary follows the chronology of Hesse’s life, using her own journal entries and letters as the narrative arc. Prominent artists and curators who worked with or were close to Hesse speak candidly about their memories of the artist and the profound impact that her work had on the trajectory of the New York contemporary art scene. The film addresses Hesse’s tragic early death, as well as her traumatic family history (her escape from Nazi Germany as a child and her mother’s suicide), but does not revel in any tropes of the so-called “tortured artist.” Instead, it celebrates her brief but brilliant career and her immense artistic passion. Indeed, at the end of the film, artist Robert Mangold discusses Hesse’s posthumous Guggenheim retrospective, noting just how remarkably prolific she was as an artist. He states: “I don’t think all of us realized how good that work was…I had a show at the Guggenheim that was approximately five years’ work and it was one ring around the museum. When you see the volume of what Eva was able to accomplish in that time, it makes you realize what you’re able to do in five years.”
Hesse asserted herself as one of the most prominent artists in the heavily male-dominated New York art scene of the late 1960s. From the outside, Hesse’s rise to critical acclaim may have seemed meteoric, but this documentary reveals Hesse’s initial frustrations at being eclipsed by her husband and fellow artist, Tom Doyle, and the intense anxiety and bouts of depression she had to overcome. Hesse’s work ethic and passion was perhaps the most common thread throughout the documentary (and the testimonials of the various speakers) and can be credited, along with her immense talent, as the mark of her success. And yet, even though Hesse was comfortably situated within the art world by the end of her life, her work was still removed from that of her contemporaries. She brought to her sculptural assemblages a warmth, eroticism, and humor which marked a departure from the calculated precision of the minimalist and conceptual works by her peers, artists such as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt.
The artists featured in the Hawn Gallery exhibition, Piecing It Together work within modernist traditions of abstraction (those in which Hesse’s work is also deeply rooted), but seek to blur the boundaries between the art world and the domestic sphere. They problematize the historical marginalization of the domestic by incorporating their experiences of parenthood and memories of home into their practice. Danielle Kimzey allows her young daughter to make the first marks on many of her canvases, and then structures her compositions thusly, piecing the work together like the puzzles (such as Legos) she encounters daily. Mary Laube privileges interior spaces as the subject matter of her work and modifies and flattens the perspective of her compositions to mirror the distortions of our perceptions of ‘home.’ Christopher Reno draws inspiration from his family’s collection of quilts, afghans, and embroidered fabrics, employing repetition to create densely patterned abstract works that reflect the precision of stitches and pixels, and bring to the forefront an art form that is often categorized as craft.
The unabashed intersection of the Piecing It Together artists’ practices and their experiences of ‘home’ and parenthood emphasizes the intimacy of the subject matter and the central role of the highly personal (and often insular) domestic realm in their work. Similarly, Eva Hesse is a moving tribute that reveals Hesse’s work to be as intimate and personal as it is transcendent.
For a more in depth of review of Eva Hesse, see Director of Hamon Arts Library, Jolene de Verges’ blog post from 2016.
Piecing It Together is on view in the Hawn Gallery until May 28th.
Blog post: Courtesy of Georgia Erger, Curatorial Fellow of the Hawn Gallery
Feature image: Eva Hesse in her studio
Promotional images: Courtesy of the Eva Hesse Documentary website at evahessedoc.com