Eva Hesse was a leading Post-Minimalist artist whose brief career was cut short by her death from a brain tumor at the age of thirty-four. Hesse made art works in organic or draped forms, which challenged the idea of the art object as static and durable. Hesse created her Post-Minimal Art using floppy, unstable materials such as latex, fiberglass, and plastics in opposition to the rigid geometry of hard, industrial materials used in the male-dominated art of that time.
Born in Hamburg, Germany to Jewish parents, Hesse escaped the Holocaust by emigrating with her family to New York City in 1939. Hesse studied at the the Art Students League and Cooper Union. She received her B.A. in 1959 from the Yale School of Art, where she was influenced by Abstract Expressionism. After graduating, Hesse painted dark expressionistic self-portraits, that reflected the emotional turbulence in her life. Her works in the early 1960s were abstract paintings and drawings, which possibly were drafts to her later sculptures.
In 1960, Hesse met the Conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. They became close friends up to the time of her death just ten years later. They influenced one another in art and in life. He was a constant source of encouragement to her. He wrote a poignant five-page letter confirming his belief in her talent and her work. While his influence on her has always been acknowledged, what is now being realized is that she also influenced him. LeWitt himself has acknowledged this, and her aesthetic can be especially seen in his later works, which contain biomorphic movement similar to hers.
In 1964, in addition to her abstract oil paintings, Hesse started to make non-objective sculpture. Hesse spent a year in Germany in 1965 where she created sculptures with materials left behind in the abandoned factory she was living in with her sculptor husband Tom Doyle. It was during the last five months of this stay that she embarked on a series of fourteen untitled three-dimensional reliefs using a wide range of materials. Latex became a medium for her sculptures, and she used it in ways that had never been done before. From this time on, her work would embody elements of Minimalism in the use of simple shapes that were folded, piled up, twisted, and wound – sometimes almost looking like flesh.
Her last works showed her total denial of fixed form and scale. Her “Rope Piece” takes on a different shape each time it is installed. The resulting linear web extends into new space in the tradition of “drawing in space.” It is a three dimensional version of a poured painting.
Her first solo sculpture show was held in Dusseldorf in 1965. Her only American solo show during her lifetime was held in New York in 1968. There were dozens of posthumous exhibitions of her work in Europe and in the United States, including the Guggenheim Museum, San Francisco MoMA, Seattle Art Museum, and the Jewish Museum of New York. In 2016, the documentary “Eva Hesse” was premiered in New York.