Oil on canvas. 18 x 16 inches. Ursula Hauser Collection, Switzerland

Oil on canvas. 18 x 16 inches. Ursula Hauser Collection, Switzerland


From September 25 to January 2, 2011 – The Hammer Museum of Art – UCLA

The Hammer Museum presents Eva Hesse Spectres 1960, an exhibition of seminal and rarely seen paintings by legendary artist Eva Hesse (1936-1970). Created when Hesse was just 24, this group of nineteen semi-representational oil paintings stands in contrast to her later minimalist structures and sculptural assemblages, yet constitutes a vital link in the progression of her work. While several recent museum exhibitions on Hesse’s work have featured a few of these paintings from 1960 however none have considered these works as a group all together. This timely reassessment of Hesse’s career furthers an understanding of her artistic contributions.

Organized by E. Luanne McKinnon, Director of the University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, the exhibition focuses on what McKinnon terms Hesse’s “spectre” paintings for their haunted interiority and attempt to embody emotional states in abstract form. There are two distinct groups within this spectre painting series. In the first, the figures in these intimately scaled (approx. 9 x 12 in.) paintings are gaunt, loosely rendered, standing or dancing in groups of two or three yet disconnected from one another. The second group of works presents both odd, alien-like creatures and depictions that resemble the artist herself, in traditional easel-size scale (approximately 32 x 42 inches).

The exhibition, situated in Gallery II, will consider these semi-representational and evocative spectre paintings not merely as self-portraits per se, but as states of consciousness, and thereby open a dialogue about Hesse and her aspirations against a diaristic account of nightmares/visions that remained constant throughout her life. As McKinnon notes, “Looking inwardly and outwardly and with paint as her guide, she began to paint herself out and away and ahead…The procession of paintings under examination here represents a rupture that, once completed (not as a formal solution but rather as a psychological denouement), settled back into solving the problems presented in abstraction, eventually evolving into the constructions that Hesse is lauded for.” Against a corpus of commentary which has suggested that these particular works are abject exercises of self-deprecation, Eva Hesse Spectres 1960 will examine them as testimonies to a private anxiety. This exhibition aims to further an understanding the development of Hesse’s artistic voice and contribution, as the spectre paintings demand an historical reconsideration of when Hesse became “Hesse.”

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