FEMALE STUDY: EVA HESSE & POSTMINIMALISM

Every designer likes to think of themselves as original in some way, but I also like to consider my influences, who my predecessors are, and which of my contemporaries work in a similar vein. I like to do this with other trends and design themes, in order to get a better understanding of where they're coming from.

This month I participated in COEUR Tradeshow for LA Market Week, and was struck by the repetition of postminimalism in accessory design. Though postminimalism came about in the 1960s, and remained a dominant style in art and music through the 70s, there seems to be a new wave of postminimalism in artisanal wares as of late.

At the show, I saw a lot of pieces that resembled the late artist Eva Hesse's work, made in the 1960s. Using misshapen, almost playful lines, the application of rope and other everyday objects; materials containing many characteristics of postminimalist visual art: necklaces, pottery, bags, and apothecary goods by designers from New York, California, and even Australia are being made in this style. This new movement makes sense to me, as designers are likely reacting to the very minimal trends of plain sack dresses and monochromatic outfits that permeated the last five years of fashion.

But now that we're here collectively, I think it's important to study a forerunner. Both to pay homage, and to better educate ourselves on what has already occurred so that we might build upon, rather than repeat.

Eva Hesse was born in Germany in 1936 to a Jewish family. During WWII Hesse and her sister were sent to England to flee the Nazis, and were met by her parents a few years later. Once reunited, she and her family went to New York in 1939 where they lived together in Washington Heights until 1944 when Hesse's parents divorced. A year later, her mother committed suicide. Hesse was only ten years old.

Hesse had an impressive art education, having graduated from the School of Industrial Art in New York as a teen, followed by brief studies at Pratt Institute of Design and Cooper Union, before receiving a BA from Yale in 1959. At Yale she studied under Josef Albers, an abstract expressionist who greatly influenced Hesse.

Following her education, Hesse met her husband, sculptor Tom Doyle. The two went to Germany together in 1965 where they lived in an abandoned textile factory during Doyle's artist residency. Living in a dilapidated industrial space, Hesse began to use left over parts from factory machines and other industrial materials in her work. 

Though the year in Germany with Doyle ended in divorce, Hesse's work was forever changed. Returning to New York, she focused solely on sculpture  moving away from painting to working exclusively with three dimensional objects. 

Hesse's 'anti-form' style, along with her use of latex, resin and other industrial materials gained recognition, allowing her to exhibit her work of large-scale sculptures in a solo show at the Fischback Gallery in New York in 1968. But four years after Hesse returned to New York, the same year of her first solo show of sculptures in the US, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Hesse underwent three surgeries before dying a year later at the age of 34, ending her career at a mere 10 years of work.

Though Hesse was not an outright feminist, she did call her work "feminine" because she was a woman. Nevertheless, in addition to influencing designers today, she also impacted feminist artists from the late 60s through the 80s with her ability to find recognition and to live as a working artist during a time when the art world was dominated by men. Hesse had six exhibitions in the short ten years she worked, two of which were solo shows, something that was virtually unheard of for a woman at the time.

Though Hesse's life and work were cut short, her legacy lives on, and great efforts have been made to preserve her early paintings, as well as her later drawings, drafts, and sculptures. To this day, Hesse's work is debated among critics because of the difficulty in discerning what of her work is complete, and whether to call a drawing a draft for future sculptures, or finished work. Hesse has had numerous posthumous retrospective shows, as much of her work is in the collections of the Guggenheim, MoMA, and other art centers around the world.


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015