Unreal Nature

June 27, 2016

Inside and Outside

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… “I can be proud. Am I?”

This is from Eva Hesse by Lucy Lippard (1976):

… My first impression of Eva was that of a beautiful, fashionable, but spoiled little girl. She was in a state of total anxiety due to the living conditions (nor recommended for a compulsive housekeeper), to tensions within the marriage, and certainly to her own work, although at the time I too considered her “Tom’s wife” rather than a serious artist. Her drawings were beautiful but not unique, and her paintings were much too murky for my tastes; her personal manner contradicted the strength and depth I perceived only later. [1963]

[ … ]

Hesse_hang-up-1966
Eva Hesse, Hang Up, 1966

“I would like the work to be non-work. This means that it would find its way beyond my preconceptions.
What I want of my art I can eventually find. The work must go beyond this.
It is my main concern to go beyond what I know and what I can know.
The formal principles are understandable and understood.
It is the unknown quantity from which and where I want to go.
As a thing, an object, it accedes to its non-logical self.
It is something, it is nothing.” — Eva Hesse, 1968

… “No one knew what condition I’d be in after the operation [for a brain tumor in 1969]. There were so many possibilities. Also in terms of my personality — and my psyche. To myself I seem pretty much the same (not depressed or anxious). I look at the past 3½ years with a kind of amazement. All that has come to pass. My changes. Inside and outside. I can be proud. Am I? And certainly I can live alone and be within myself.”

One of her first thoughts was that she didn’t have to be an artist to justify her existence. “I could live without it. … ”

… Nevertheless, Hesse’s art was the most important thing she had, and after the operation, however little she admitted it to herself, she knew that if she was going to realize her capacity for making great art, she had to do it right now. She completed six more major pieces and many drawings before she died, overcoming obstacles that would have demolished most people. In a curious way, Hesse gained strength from her predicament.

[line break added] The possibility of death had broken down certain barriers life had always imposed on her. Gioia Timpanelli, who had met her only in late 1968, could barely believe Hesse’s accounts of her own weakness, anxiety, and dependence in the past. She found her immensely strong and clearheaded, as though “this was the first time she was really living on all levels.”

… Unfortunately, by the time the Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition of Hesse’s opened in December 1972, she had become a stereotype, or myth, the art world’s answer to Sylvia Plath and Diane Arbus. That she did not commit suicide and had, on the contrary, an immensely strong will to live and to work, was ignored.

… While a few voices were raised in protest or serious criticism against further exploitation of a major artist, they were drowned out by articles like Joyce Purnick’s in the New York Post (December 13, 1972), subtitled “Tortured and Talented” … [and] Douglas Davis’ sexist “Cockroach or Queen” piece in Newsweek (January 15, 1973) which called the sculpture “dainty” and “safe,” ending patronizingly: “What is tragic about her early death is not the loss of a great artist. It is the loss of an intensely human person, cut off before finding — and completing herself.”

[line break added] After all this soap opera, one had to agree with Kasha Linville Gula that “the American public finds it necessary to turn its great women artists into tragic figures and then to forget about their work — as if their deaths, with the emphasis on suicide, somehow explain their artistic output. … By implication, any woman who carries her art to heights that subordinate her personal life is bound to die tragically, probably by her own hand. It’s a punishing sort of recognition, carrying with it the suggestion that without super-suffering the art couldn’t have happened; that no woman artist can be truly great in a public sense unless she has so mucked up her personal life that she can’t possibly be getting any satisfaction out of it.”

Hesse_right-after-1969
Eva Hesse, Right After, 1969

*****************

… She compared her love of absurdity to Waiting for Godot, “where the main thing is waiting. They go on waiting and pushing and they keep saying it and doing nothing. And it really is a key to understanding me. Only a few understand that my humor comes from there, my whole approach.”

… I was charged by one friend of Hesse’s to extricate her in this book from the “mere role of synthesizer — the traditional female role,” as he put it. The fact remains that Hesse was a pivotal figure and a synthesizer, as have been most great loners. She took exactly what she needed from the art around her, transformed it, and gave it back to the art world.

[line break added] The art around her tended to be pushed “forward” by avant-garde necessity, and, being a woman of her time, Hesse was not free of that necessity. But she was free to take contradictory elements and simply use them as vehicles for her own content ahead of her own time, rather than to continue or even initiate a specific “new trend.” “I don’t know if you can be completely out of the tradition, but I don’t think I’m conservative,” she told Nemser.

[line break added] “I know art history. I know what I believe in. I know where I come from or relate to or the work that I have looked at and am convinced by, but I feel so strongly that the only art is the art of the artist personally and found out as much as possible for himself and by himself. I don’t mind being miles from everybody else. I think the best artists are those who have stood alone and who can be separated from what movements that have been made about them.”

-Julie

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