Eva Hesse is an icon of 1960s American art, whose work was crucial for upcoming generations. The focus of the present Eva Hesse exhibition in Vienna is on those works which were created in the years 1964/65, during her stay in Germany - the country she and her family had been forcibly expelled from in 1938.
Hesse's return had come about as the result of the invitation of the industrialist and art collector Fredrich Arnhard Scheidt to her husband, the sculptor Tom Doyle, and herself. The couple spent the time from June 1964 to August 1965 in Hesse's native country, sharing a large studio in an abandoned textile factory of Scheidt's in Kettwig-on-the Ruhr near Essen. The time spent in Germany was to prove a benchmark period both in Hesse's personal and artistic development. It marks a kind of methodological turning point in her work - a move away from painting and drawing towards colleges and sculptural, plastic art works. On the content side, it marked a reduction of figural elements in favor of a linear and monochromatic minimalisation.
The exhibition at the Kusnsthalle Wien shows 60 drawings, collages, gouaches and reliefs from the time before and during her sojourn in Germany, as well as some of the works, which came into being immediately after her return to States. These letter works tend to pick up motifs from the Kettwig days, further concentrating them and! thus pointing towards Hesse's mature, post-minimalist-inspired work, cut short in mid-stride by her early death at the age of 34.
The first series of drawings generated in Germany comprises collages of an Abstract-Expressionist colouration, "wild space", as Hesse wrote to her friend Sol LeWitt in a letter of 18 March, 1965. Subsequently, the drawings became more structured, the space being filled with a grid-like structure of squares of a sort that Hesse had been using repeatedly since the beginnings ! of her career as an artist. From these would emerge figuratively organ ic and machine-like elements. Finally, in her crystalline, linear "machine drawings", inspired by objects left lying around the abandoned factory halls, Hesse would entirely liberate herself from the constraints of space. Eventually, this phase of formal reduction - Hesse speaks of the "nonsense", of the disregard for meaning which governs these drawings - would lead to her th! ree-dimensional relief objects, which marked the decisive break-through in Hesse's development towards becoming a sculptor. The powerful use of colours, so characteristic of the entire period of her stay in Germany, is gradually placed by a more mellow monochromaticism.
Over the past few years Kunsthalle Wien has aimed to present important art reference figures of the 1960s and 1970s and also, if possible, to bring out as-yet-unpublished writings of those artists. As a companion to the Eva Hesse exhibition, therefore, a publication of datebooks from the artist's time in Germany, translated for the first time and fitted with a commentary, as well as a catalogue featuring the works created during this period, have scheduled to appear. Both works offer revealing insights into a phase of individual and artistic transformation of the artist. Beyond that they may also, thanks to the critical commentary, be read as detailed documents of the t! imes.
The diaries and datebooks, beyond offering crucial insights into the artistic challenges faced by Eva Hesse, also bear eloquent witness of her inward personal conflicts and the temporary irreconcilability of her aim of wanting to lead a self-determined life as a woman artist and at the same time being the wife and homemaker of a successful sculptor. "I cannot be so many things. I cannot be something of everyone... Woman, beautiful, artist, wife, housekeeper, cook, saleslady, all these things. I cannot even be myself nor know what I am."
While it is true that Eva Hesse's central point of residence and work was based in Kettwig-on-the Ruhr, her datebooks reveal a lively traveling activity shared with Tom Doyle during this time. Journeys took them to Brussels, Paris, Rome, Majorca, and regular trips were made to exhibition openings in Berne, Basel, Zurich, Dusseldorf, etc. Hesse and Doyle found themselves, during their sojourn in Europe, continuously at the centre of the confluence of diverse directions in the European and American avant-gardes. This mixture created ! the foundation upon which Hesse's forms of expressions were honed to a level of precision.
The exhibition, as much as the catalogue and the datebooks now published for the first time, offer a rare opportunity to reference the personal nations of an artist in conjunction with the work. mirroring thoughts and encounters which pushed along the transformational process of her art.