CRAIG F. STARR GALLERY | APRIL 12 – MAY 27, 2011
The meeting of Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt in 1960 sparked a decade-long friendship that led to a fervent dialogue. Taking their unique relationship as its source of inspiration, the exquisite exhibition, Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt investigates the reciprocal intensity of their rapport. Despite superficial disparities (LeWitt’s oeuvre is usually thought of as idea-driven while Hesse’s works reflect the opposite: intimacy, personal gesture, and physical sensuality), they indeed had much in common. For instance, while Hesse drew inspiration from Minimalist aesthetics and the conceptual clarity that characterized LeWitt’s work, LeWitt respected Hesse’s devotion to the trace of the human hand in art. Upon close inspection, his sculptures and drawings deny mechanical perfection.
The exhibition is curated by Veronica Roberts, who first began working with LeWitt while coordinating his 2000 retrospective for the Whitney Museum. She has since held a curatorial position at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and is now the Director of Research for the Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing Catalogue Raisonné and an Adjunct Associate Curator of Contemporary Art for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Roberts’s expertise in LeWitt’s uvre and the generation of New York artists that included Hesse, Robert Mangold, Robert Ryman, and Mel Bochner among others, has ensured that the installation is well-informed, but she also provides it with a sense of intimacy. Installed in three rooms of this Upper East Side townhouse gallery, the show unfolds without the pomposity or anonymity that a vast white cube can impose. Instead, the space allows a dialogue between the works. That many of the featured works, including a stunning Hesse drawing for which LeWitt created a unique frame, were actual gifts exchanged between them is a special treat. The exhibition assembles works on paper by both artists, as well as a wall sculpture by Hesse and a selection of LeWitt’s wall drawings. There is also a collaborative piece in the form of a square table covered in rubber washers, an odd meeting ground for these highly individual bodies of work.
While scholars have written about Hesse’s debt to Minimalism at large and to LeWitt in particular, Hesse’s impact on LeWitt remains little discussed.
LeWitt would survive his friend by almost 40 years, and Roberts makes a point of investigating both the immediate and retrospective influence that Hesse had on him. The key to her thesis is presented in the front gallery in the form of “Wall Drawing #46,” which LeWitt created in response to Hesse’s untimely death in 1970 and showed a few days later at Galerie Yvon Lambert in Paris. In this moving tribute, LeWitt for the first time made use of “not straight” vertical pencil lines, which were meant to be drawn directly onto a nine-by-nine foot wall. While the organic flow of these marks clearly evoke Hesse’s more expressive use of line (as evidenced by her cord sculptures, a couple of which are included in the show), “Wall Drawing #46” marks the fusion of the two artists’ stylistic approaches. In fact, LeWitt later explained how he had intended this work to be a bond between him and Hesse, but added that it also reflected her influence on him. By including examples of LeWitt’s later works, which are rich in biomorphic movement, such as his so-called “Scribbles”, “Loopy Doopy” drawings and “Horizontal Brushstrokes,” Roberts reveals how broadly LeWitt expanded upon the vocabulary established in “Wall Drawing #46.”
While the exhibition recaptures Hesse’s and LeWitt’s relationship through its visuals, the many dedications that are found on the works (“for Eva,” “for Sol”), as well as one long letter from LeWitt to Hesse, add a sense of poignancy. For both, art meant everything, but with Hesse, self-doubt was a constant companion. In 1965, to encourage her when she found herself particularly challenged during the year she spent in Germany, LeWitt wrote: “Try and tickle something inside you. You belong in the most secret part of [you]… don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, ideas or flavor.” Whether LeWitt’s words elevated Hesse’s spirits is something we won’t know, but as an emotional declaration of conviction, they remain timeless and inspirational for anyone devoted to the creative process.