Eva Hesse’s ‘Expanded Expansion’ Has Aged at Human Scale

Like visiting an getting older guardian after years away, going to an Eva Hesse present places mortality on the thoughts. The supplies of her late profession—latex, fiberglass, rubber—decompose, turning into extra brittle every time we see them. Her varieties themselves evoke our bodies. Ringaround Arosie (1965), a Masonite aid mounded with electrical wire and fabric, resembles a big areola. Dangling in nets, the polyethylene spheres of Untitled or Not But (1966) counsel the gonads of an unknown species. In synthetic chemical compounds, Hesse discovered a unstable, pangender, even posthuman fleshiness, marking a definite territory within the crowded area of Sixties artists. Then, solely months after 1970 rolled round, at simply 34 and the peak of her imaginative and prescient, she died of a mind tumor—a outcome, many have speculated, of her working with molten plastics and styrenes.

Because of her items’ brief lifespans, every present of Hesse’s late work appears like a fleeting alternative. We should go to Venice earlier than it sinks into the ocean! Held by museum collections far and huge, these sculptures, which she made after transitioning from summary portray, in 1965, are not often displayed. Some, corresponding to Sans III (1969), an L-shaped chain of small bins, have grown frangible and brown to the purpose of unrecognizability. Most pose curational dilemmas: Would Hesse, who likened her observe to a glass that sails via the air and shatters in a fire, present this work, had she survived? The questions aren’t solely obstacles to museums and viewers however artistic provocations that draw her beautiful objects into conceptual realms. And maybe none of her constructions has aged with the vexing drive of Expanded Growth (1969), amongst her final accomplished giant sculptures and the centerpiece of a Guggenheim exhibition of the identical title.

Measuring 30 toes lengthy in its present set up, and propped up by 10-foot fiberglass poles, the work defies categorization. Although its 13 panels are virtually painterly, Expanded Growth nonetheless resembles a sculpture. But it may’t stand by itself, and should be leaned towards a wall. Whereas the draping, rubberized cheesecloth of its panels may need recalled the softness of textiles when Expanded Growth premiered at the Whitney, in 1969, decay has rendered the fabric arduous, a sock starched because it dries from the rain. Consequently, nobody has proven the piece in 34 years.

Set up view, Eva Hesse: Expanded Growth, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, July 8, 2022–October 16, 2022. Hesse initially conceived of Expanded Growth as stretchable, able to spanning areas of differing dimension. The stiffness of age stymied this chance. She deliberate so as to add extra panels, however the thought was scrapped when she handed away. Since then the piece’s colour has darkened, from a shimmering off-white to a putrescent, uneven amber, like a fossil encasing a prehistoric insect. It seems giant up shut, but from a distance in some way diminutive towards the cavernous confines of the Guggenheim’s tucked-away Lefrak Gallery: artwork that endures in its energy however simply can’t fill an area prefer it as soon as might.

Unfold throughout the present’s entrance room are small works made of comparable materials, which solely add to the sense that Hesse’s late oeuvre quantities to a pure historical past museum of the unnatural. Rounded half-cylinders are the dimensions and form of ossified sea urchins. Bands of latex, open at each ends, resemble scraps of leather-based armor from an historic civilization. Throughout her life, Hesse was grouped with minimalists like Donald Judd and Carl Andre, however the Guggenheim present means that posterity ought to examine her to fabricators of the faux-organic and anthropological—corresponding to Paul Thek, who constructed dissected animals in addition to the limbs of Roman troopers from wax and different supplies, and Duane Hanson, one other fan of fiberglass, who used it to sculpt hyperrealistic statues of Center Individuals caught in a freeze body of bodily rise and fall. That Hanson, too, was purportedly poisoned by his dauntless use of harmful compounds provides larger stakes to those artists’ commentaries on entropy. 


We’re solely dwelling if we’re within the technique of dying.


A few of the smaller items are displayed in a bakery’s pastry instances. The concept was her good friend Sol LeWitt’s, who organized her poisonous confections in a cupboard he purchased on Canal Avenue. The inclusion makes welcome reference to each New York and secular Judaism—Hesse’s household fled Hamburg, Germany, for the Jewish haven of Washington Heights in 1939, and she or he lived in Manhattan for practically her whole life. Bakeries and delis, ransacked by Nazis within the previous nation, turned indicators of a thriving immigrant group within the new one. 

The trauma of Hesse’s upbringing is a vital route into her outstanding artwork, however one as well-trodden as her loss of life. The Guggenheim present does one thing much more fascinating by centering the dialog on conservation. In a small adjoining room, a short movie discusses the choice to point out Expanded Growth and the “minimal intervention” obligatory to revive it. Conservators added strips to its again to be able to restore rips within the cheesecloth and constructed an equipment to boost the piece earlier than its sections have been reassembled. In contrast to many documentaries in artwork reveals—so typically fawning, jargony, or simplistic—this one doesn’t condescend to its viewers. Famend curator (however not of this present) Elizabeth Sussman and sculptor Maren Hassinger disagree in regards to the nature of Hesse’s work in its current state: Are her sculptures as important as ever? Or have they turn out to be, of their rigidity, monuments? In a single fascinating section, the Guggenheim’s restorers accomplice with Doug Johns, Hesse’s private fiberglass producer, whereas he recreates a single panel from scratch to be able to perceive the work’s look half a century in the past. (Because the film reminds us, images from that point have pale, too.) In the identical room are touchable samples of rubberized cheesecloth in numerous states of degradation, fulfilling museumgoers’ urge for food for tactility. These items additionally convey the inevitable: The oldest pattern, and the one one protected by glass, is in shards.

For now, Expanded Growth is alive. In contrast to, say, Historical Greek sculptures, which preserve six-pack abs and chiseled pecs whereas the marble fractures and fades, Hesse’s work ages like flesh does. It makes a singular level: We’re solely dwelling if we’re within the technique of dying. Will I outlast Expanded Growth? Will you? Will the generations earlier than us, or after us? Will the information of how this work was made? Keeper of the flame for Hesse’s craft after her demise, Johns handed on earlier this yr, an unlimited loss. Such technical experience, from one other cultural period, a bygone New York, can’t be replicated. However in Hesse’s artwork, this inescapable destruction turns into a artistic course of, a mortality marching alongside in sluggish lockstep with our personal. 

Eva Hesse: Expanded Growth
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 fifth Avenue / www.guggenheim.org
By way of October 17, 2022

Daniel Felsenthal is a daily contributor to the Voice, writes frequent criticism for Pitchfork, and publishes fiction, essays, and poems in different publications. In 2019, his novella Intercourse With Andre appeared in The Puritan.


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