Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Eva Hesse by Tosh Berman

German born, Jewish and of course, had to be on the move during her childhood in the 1940s, Eva Hesse lived an intense short life. She died at the age of 34. Yet she is the gift that keeps on giving.   Like my other favorite artist, Yves Klein, who also died at the age of 34.  Both artists, when I look at their work, deals with life as a force to reckon with - it’s not about early death, but living life intensely and correctly.  That word “correctly” has a moral tinge to it, and I don’t mean it in that sense.  For these two artists, there were choices in front of them, and both made the correct decisions.  Hesse had a rather odd and complicated family life - a manic - depressive mother including a step-mom who had the same name as her, but also suffered from brain cancer.  Apparently within weeks of Hesse’s actual illness. 

Hesse worked in the medium of paint, but also did sculptures using latex, fiberglass, and plastics.  There is for sure a substantial argument for and against the lasting of the material she used in her art work, but I feel Hesse knew her art pieces wouldn’t last forever due to the material she chose for her sculptures.  There’s a beauty in thought, knowing what you leave on this mortal earth will not last.   I often think of her sculptures in that light.  There are two works of art displayed in the current exhibition “Revolution in the Making” at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel by Hesse. 

Eva Hesse "Aught"

“Aught” is four canvases with latex and filler stretched over it.  The photograph here (images give a hint of an artwork, but one really needs to see certain works in person) doesn’t show the fragility of the work.   Each canvas is different from the other.  Either by coloration or the aging of the work.  I could be wrong, but the four individual pieces that make up this work of art, I think, would have been identical, at the time they were made.  

Marcel Duchamp’s famous large glass art piece, covered by dust, and photographed by Man Ray is another work, that comments on time and how it affects art.   Not exactly a decay in the same sense of Hesse’s work, but the awareness of the passing of time, and to me, an obvious reflection or meditation.  It seems, when you read about her, Hesse’s life must have been difficult - yet the work she produced, is to me, a delight.  “Aught” changes over time, and that is what makes the work so powerful and beautiful.  Yet, it’s a work that needs to be re-visited many times.   The show has been up for four months already, so I come back to “Aught” repeatedly, and I feel each time I look at it, there is some sort of change - which I suspect it is more how I look at an object or art, but nevertheless, there is something about it that changes.  I imagine if you’re the owner, you can look at this work on a consistent basis for decades, noticing a change here or there - but for us (the others) we can only see it for short periods of time.  So with respect of time passing, it is not our time that is going by, but the work itself that is commenting on that passage from one point to another.  

Eva Hesse "Augment" 

“Augment” is a funny title for the other piece that is in the exhibition.  It’s layers of latex canvases that are laid on the floor on top of each other.   It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture, but it reads like a painting to me.  I think due to its flatness, but it is 17 units or individual pieces that make up “Augment.” I don’t see this work as a passage of time, or dealing with decay -but more of a design that is somewhat hypnotic, and for some odd (unexplained) reason reminds me of layers of bacon on a plate.  And although I do not eat bacon, I think the bacon itself is a beautiful looking meat.  Yet, it’s the repetition of the pieces that give it a funny aspect, where one approaches this work as almost like slices of a whole bread loaf.  There is a natural or environmental aspect of the work, but I don’t feel that is the intention.  I think it’s more of the fact that it exists, and that is the sole purpose of this work.   Seeing layers of the same thing is kind of funny in an absurd manner.  I read an interview with Hesse, that is in the “October Files” series, where she mentioned that repetition in her work is - “Because it exaggerates. If something is meaningful, maybe it’s more meaningful said ten times. It’s not just an aesthetic choice. If something is absurd, it’s much more really exaggerated, absurd, if it’s repeated.” So, “Augment” works in that absurdity, but it is also a pleasure for the eye.  It relaxes me, and perhaps it the repetition of seeing the same object over and over again, that gives me such contentment.   “Augment” and “Aught” are separate works, but they are also a brother and sister or two sisters - nevertheless, it’s in the same family.  It was shown together only once in 1968, and this is the first time in 48 years that these two pieces have been rejoined, for this specific exhibition at Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel.  Artworks in a room tend to have a dialogue between themselves, and if you look, one can make connections between the two pieces.  “Aught” can mean ought, which suggests a sense of duty or responsibility.   “Augment” is making something greater, by adding to it.  So “Aught is four individual pieces hanging on the wall, and then finally on the ground you get 17 pieces which make up “Augment.” The visual and word pun is Duchampian in a sense, but it also plays with the concept that ‘more is better than less.’ 

As I mentioned, I’m often drawn to the Eva Hesse works in this exhibition, because it  suits my hungry eye, but also there is something provocative  and funny about these two works - and now that they are together, I feel a bit more of a whole person.  Perhaps, you will feel the same.   

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