Eva Hesse

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Ger­man-born artist Eva Hesse’s short life be­lies a prodi­gious out­put that in­flu­enced Min­i­mal­ism, Post-Min­i­mal­ism, and ab­strac­tion. She worked with la­tex, fiber­glass, cheese­cloth, and wax, among other ma­te­ri­als, cre­at­ing or­ganic, nat­u­ral­is­tic lu­mi­nous forms and trans­form­ing in­dus­trial waste prod­ucts into high art. Mar­cie Be­gleiter’s new doc­u­men­tary paints Hesse as a charis­matic, al­lur­ing fig­ure in the 1960s New York art scene, who chal­lenged Min­i­mal­ism’s for­mal con­cerns with ge­om­e­try and al­ways pushed against ma­jor trends. Hesse’s story is sub­stan­tially pre­sented. It’s also quite mov­ing.

Born Jewish in Ham­burg in 1936, Hesse and her fam­ily im­mi­grated to New York City in 1939. Her father had lost his po­si­tion as a crim­i­nal at­tor­ney when the Nazis rose to power. He sent Eva and her sis­ter He­len to Hol­land, not know­ing if he would ever see them again. Be­gleiter in­cor­po­rates much of Hesse’s own words into the mix, re­ly­ing on jour­nals and let­ters read in voice-over by Selma Blair. In­ter­view sub­jects in­clud­ing art his­to­rian Lucy Lip­pard and artists Nancy Holt, Richard Serra, and Robert Man­gold are in ser­vice to the nar­ra­tion, pro­vid­ing a con­text for Hesse’s words. Film footage and pho­to­graphs en­livened by a mu­si­cal score cap­ture the zeit­geist of the 1960s, and Be­gleiter keeps the mu­sic and im­agery — dom­i­nated by views of Hesse’s artwork — flow­ing at a lively clip.

“She had gutsi­ness right from the get-go,” said He­len Hesse Cha­rash, Eva’s sis­ter. At the age of six­teen, Hesse at­tended Pratt In­sti­tute and was put off by its staid aca­demic style of in­struc­tion. She found Cooper Union to be a bet­ter fit. She then went to Yale and stud­ied un­der Josef Al­bers. For some­one who once stated that “only paint­ing will see me through,” today she is best known for her sculp­ture.

In New York, she de­vel­oped a close friend­ship with con­cep­tual artist Sol LeWitt (voiced by Pa­trick Kennedy and Michael Che Koch). Hesse mar­ried sculp­tor Tom Doyle, whom she met at a party in 1962, clean­ing him up af­ter he got in a fist­fight with an­other guest. With Doyle, she went to live and work for a time in Ger­many, a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion be­cause of her fam­ily his­tory. Hesse’s life was marked by tragedy. Her aunt, un­cle, and grand­par­ents died in con­cen­tra­tion camps, and her mother com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1946. Ac­cord­ing to He­len, it was Eva’s art that got her through, even when the rest of her life was fall­ing apart. Doyle and Hesse di­vorced in 1966 when their re­la­tion­ship grew dis­tant. In 1969, at the height of her ca­reer, she was di­ag­nosed with brain can­cer and was dead within a year at the age of thirty-four. Be­gleiter treats this chap­ter with the emo­tional weight it de­serves, and the clos­ing se­quences are heart-rend­ing. Hesse con­tin­ued to work, giv­ing birth to new sculp­tures even when she her­self was close to the end. The film is a sat­is­fy­ing por­trait and a tes­ta­ment to her in­flu­ence, and more so, to her spirit. — Michael Abatemarco

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