Visu­al Arts

Eva Hesse: Sculpture

Elis­a­beth Suss­man et al.
  • Review
By – March 26, 2012

The sto­ry is famil­iar: a pros­per­ous Jew­ish fam­i­ly in 1930’s Ger­many, moth­er, father, and two young daugh­ters. They watch their for­tunes change, the destruc­tion of their syn­a­gogue, arrests of their neigh­bors. The fam­i­ly escapes to Amer­i­ca. But then the sto­ry becomes sin­gu­lar. The moth­er, after strug­gling for years with man­ic depres­sion, com­mits sui­cide. The younger daugh­ter becomes a star of the 1960’s art scene until a brain tumor ends her sparkling career. She is 34 years old. 

No won­der that many crit­ics view Eva Hesse’s sculp­ture through the lens of her biog­ra­phy. Eva Hesse: Sculp­ture, the cat­a­logue to the 2006 exhib­it at the Jew­ish Muse­um, nods to this crit­i­cal tra­di­tion with cura­tor Wasserman’s Build­ing a Child­hood Mem­o­ry,” a sum­ma­ry of Hesse’s child­hood as told through her father’s metic­u­lous scrap­books. Although this entry appears late in the vol­ume, read­ers unfa­mil­iar with Hesse’s work should read it first, as the remain­ing chap­ters allude to her life with­out explain­ing the events to which they refer. The oth­er con­trib­u­tors address the for­mal aspects of Hesse’s oeu­vre and the move­ments into which it fit. Writ­ten by schol­ars, for schol­ars, these essays will like­ly be incom­pre­hen­si­ble to read­ers with­out a work­ing knowl­edge of 1960’s art and art criticism. 

Which brings us back to Hesse’s art and the rai­son d’etre of the book: crisp col­or images of the sculp­ture and draw­ings dis­played at the exhib­it. Hard and soft, rough and smooth, translu­cent, yet sol­id: the pho­tographs cap­ture the oppos­ing forms that char­ac­ter­ize Hesse’s work. We pay her the utmost hon­or when we respect her wish to be treat­ed not as a woman artist, not as a Jew­ish artist, but sim­ply as an artist. Eva Hesse: Sculp­ture allows us to do just that. Illus­trat­ed, index, notes.

Martha Sparks is a Ph.D. stu­dent in clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gy. She lives and stud­ies in New Jersey.

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