Visu­al Arts

Con­verg­ing Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol Lewitt

Veron­i­ca Roberts, ed.
  • Review
November 6, 2014

Though nei­ther Eva Hesse nor Sol Lewitt reached the icon­ic sta­tus of 1960s artists such as Frank Stel­la or Jasper Johns, this book hon­ors Hesse and Lewitt as their peers. The 2014 joint exhi­bi­tion of their work at the Blan­ton Muse­um of Art at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas in Austin (for which this book is the cat­a­log) had a more focused goal, how­ev­er, of show­ing their influ­ence not on the pub­lic, but on each other. 

Their rela­tion­ship defies two knee-jerk expec­ta­tions — first that they must have been roman­ti­cal­ly involved, and sec­ond that their ideas about the gen­e­sis, goals, and final prod­uct of art and artist must have run par­al­lel. Though their fam­i­ly back­grounds were sim­i­lar — both were sec­u­lar Jews whose fam­i­lies had escaped oppres­sion in Rus­sia (Lewitt) and Nazi Ger­many (Hesse) — their artis­tic moti­va­tions were quite oppo­site. Lewitt strove to remove all ele­ments of the sub­jec­tive and per­son­al in favor of geo­met­ric and math­e­mat­ic com­po­si­tions, whether in two dimen­sions or in box-shaped sculp­tures. Lewitt removed him­self so utter­ly from the actu­al cre­ation of his art that it often took the form of elab­o­rate instruc­tions to tech­ni­cians, who then cre­at­ed the work. With Hesse, on the oth­er hand, one feels keen­ly the pres­ence of the artist, shap­ing mate­ri­als with her hands and apply­ing the brush to sur­faces to cre­ate works of great sensuality. 

In the ear­ly years of their friend­ship in the six­ties they sup­port­ed each oth­er most­ly through let­ters, which form part of the book. In these, Lewitt urges Hesse away from think­ing too much, chal­leng­ing her to DO!” This is rep­re­sent­ed graph­i­cal­ly with huge shad­ed let­ters, sur­round­ed with a spiky halo of sharp lines and sur­round­ed by arrows point­ed toward the word. Lat­er, liv­ing in the same city, they saw each oth­er more fre­quent­ly, but the influ­ences on each other’s work remained sub­tle. Hesse began exper­i­ment­ing with stiff­ened string or wire, which pro­trude grace­ful­ly from her sculp­tures or are used to con­nect one part to anoth­er. The instal­la­tion of these sculp­tures made them slight­ly dif­fer­ent every time — a means both of sub­or­di­nat­ing the orig­i­nal artist (the influ­ence of Lewitt) while bring­ing for­ward the role of human touch in its cre­ation (pure Hesse). 

Eva Hesse’s pre­ma­ture death at age 34 from a brain tumor came before she had earned the place she might have among the great min­i­mal­ist and post-min­i­mal­ist artists of the six­ties and beyond. A few days after her death, Lewitt hon­ored her at a Paris exhi­bi­tion with Wall Draw­ing #46, a dense for­est of freeform pen­cil lines drawn direct­ly on a wall. He called the lines non-straight” as a way of pay­ing homage to how Hesse’s human touch, so dif­fer­ent from his own pas­sion for order­ly pat­tern, had pen­e­trat­ed his soul. This beau­ti­ful, thought­ful book, which includes sev­er­al excel­lent essays — includ­ing one by their mutu­al friend Lucy Lip­pard, an inter­view with Lewitt, a time­line, more than one hun­dred images and plates, and dozens of post­cards from their cor­re­spon­dence — will move the reader’s soul as well.

Relat­ed content:

Discussion Questions