STUDIOWORK (1968) Hesse’s ability to imbue her art with body and blood and gravity anticipated
Kiki Smith, Roni Horn, Anish Kapoor, and Rachel Whiteread.
Eva Hesse arrived in the late-'60s lull between the first thrust of minimalism and the full-boil of feminism, when the art world was craving something new. The New York artist adopted minimalism's industrial materials and added a dash of surrealist sensuality, making latex, rubber, fiberglass, resin, and plastic seem fleshy, awkward, and vulnerable. And in her hands minimalism's mechanical repetition became imperfect and irregular, like a crate of apples, all similar but each one individual.
>> SLIDESHOW: ''Eva Hesse Studiowork'' at the ICA; Tory Fair's ''Testing a World View (Again)'' at the deCordova <<
The result was boxes lined with tubes that somehow suggested sea anemones; amber pipes that brought to mind translucent bamboo, and draped ropes that looked like icy spider webs. All of which made minimalism's hard, macho asceticism feel more mysterious, intimate and personable — and rocketed her to art world prominence. Then, in 1970, she was dead of a brain tumor at age 34.
"Eva Hesse Studiowork" (at the ICA through October 10) — which was organized by the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh — is an intriguing, scholarly show of more than 40 small works from 1964 to 1970 that Hesse left behind in her studio when she died, or were acquired by friends beforehand. It's like a posthumous release of studio outtakes from a rock legend who died young — cool, but interesting mostly to hardcore fans.
Here are tiny boxes painted with abstract designs that echo her early-'60s canvases; paint-caked cords overflowing from metal cans like worms; a dull grid of metal washers on a board; fiberglass and boomerang-like stuffed-canvas things that seem to stand up and sprout strings. A large table displays dozens of simple papier-mâché shells and husks and breast-like cups. Indeed, this is "studiowork," and it all feels like unfinished thoughts for larger projects that flitted through her mind.
A handful of pieces begin to suggest what has given her art staying power. Three black rocks dangle from the wall in net bags — probably a study for a finished grouping (not here) of nine clear polyethylene rocks in net bags. Elsewhere a pair of black shapes — one looks like a pear, the other a sausage — are connected by a tube suspended from a nail. The forms are eccentric; they feel both natural and alien, and definitely alive.
Hesse's ability to imbue her art with body and blood and gravity anticipated the kinder, gentler minimalism of today's Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread, and Roni Horn, as well as the fleshy fairy-tale figures of Kiki Smith. Boston sculptor Tory Fair has descended from Smith's family tree, with glossy resin or lumpy rubber casts of her own nude body uncannily sprouting vines and flowers.
For "Testing a World View (Again)," an outdoor terrace exhibit in deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum's "Platform" series (through April 29, 2012), she presents four nearly identical casts of her nude self sitting with her hands in her lap. Flowers cover her hair and dot her chest and back. The sculptures are hollow resin, but look to be dinged-up casts in silver, coated with pink paint. One hangs off the building in defiance of gravity. Another sits on a stone wall. Another tilts at an unnatural 45-degree angle from the gravel ground. Note the use of synthetic materials and repetition plus dreamy womanly imagery. Fair's past works have been haunting, but this time the metallic sheen of the surfaces rhyme with traditional bronzes, the figures' poses are too ordinary, and the flowers seem just cute.
Read Greg Cook's blog at gregcookland.com/journal