Influential and experimental artist Eva Hesse (b. 1936, Hamburg, Germany; d. 1970, New York) sought to make objects that were neither painting nor sculpture, but a hybrid that was all her own. This exhibition centers around Expanded Expansion (1969), a monumental piece from the Guggenheim collection publicly displayed for the first time in 35 years, while also offering a glimpse into the artist’s studio practice and approach to art-making.
To make Expanded Expansion, Hesse juxtaposed soft, draping panels of rubberized cheesecloth with rigid fiberglass and polyester resin poles that extend to form “legs.”
Simultaneously humorous and commanding, the work’s repeating segments lean against the wall and can be manipulated to expand and contract. The artist described the work as “opposite in form, large, looming, powerful yet precarious.”
Embodying her interest in materiality, absurdity, and incongruities, this presentation brings to the fore the temporalities of exhibition and interpretation, elucidating the contextual nature of perception and the experience and stewardship of an artwork over time.
Accompanying Expanded Expansion is a group of small experimental works, arranged in a manner similar to the artist’s worktable, that reveal Hesse’s hand and visceral manipulation of materials. Unedited archival video and audio—the artist in her studio captured on film by Dorothy Beskind, and an interview by art historian and feminist activist Cindy Nemser—allow for open interpretations of the artist’s words and a rare look into her working and living space.
About the artist ~ Eva Hess was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1936. Fleeing Nazi Germany with her family, they emigrated to New York City, settling in Washington Heights in 1939. She graduated from New York’s School of Industrial Art at the age of 16, and enrolled in Pratt Institute of Design in 1952, but dropped out a year later. She continued classes at Art Students League for a time, moving on to study at Cooper Union from 1954-57. In 1959 she received her BA from yale University.
Moving back to Manhattan, this was a time of friendship with such artists as Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Yayoi Kusama and others. She married sculptor Tom Doyle in 1961, divorcing in 1966.
A short, Guggenheim-produced documentary covers the extensive research, dialogue, and complex conservation treatment that were carried out to resuscitate the work. Hesse was well aware of the fragility of her materials, but ambivalent about the inherent demise of her works. Despite material changes, Expanded Expansion still holds tremendous power and is a testament to the pioneering artist who, despite her untimely death in 1970, left a body of work that pushed sculpture beyond Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism, and has deeply influenced the work of younger artists.
Hesse was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1969, and died the following year in New York. She was once quoted as having said about her experimental materials, “Life doesn’t last; art doesn’t last, it doesn’t matter.” However, as stewards of art, the Guggenheim felt they owe future audiences the opportunity to see Expanded Expansion.
Eva Hesse: Expanded Expansion will be on view from July 8 through October 17, 2022 at Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street, NYC.
Eva Hesse: Expanded Expansion is curated by Lena Stringari, Deputy Director and Andrew W. Mellon Chief Conservator, with the collaboration of Richard Armstrong, Director, and Esther Chao, Objects Conservator.