The artwork of Eva Hesse has inspired a wide range of interpretations and associations, while at the same time it has resisted classification, resulting in an ongoing desire and subsequent difficulty on the part of critics and scholars to place Hesse’s work within established stylistic and ideological traditions. This paper examines patterns of reception that emerged both during Hesse’s career and in the decades following her untimely death, with a focus on the recurring ways in which critics and scholars have attempted to make sense of Hesse’s work at specific historical moments. In the 1960s, Hesse was routinely implicated within the growing debates surrounding minimalist sculpture; however, her highly expressive style and organic mode of abstraction consistently kept her on the fringes of this artistic movement. Reviews reflect critical frustration, as Hesse’s work both engaged and challenged developing conventions of contemporary art. Following her death, new ways of dealing with Hesse’s career emerged, namely the use of personal biography to position Hesse within an emerging feminist consciousness. Her life and work were co-opted by feminist curators and scholars and often discussed inclusively with more transparently feminist modes of representation. Hesse’s career coincided with a minimalist aesthetic in America, and her death coincided with the rise of feminism; however, her work fits neatly into neither of these modes of discourse. In this paper I explore the ways in which critics and scholars have negotiated Hesse’s role as an artist within deliberations of minimalism and feminism, and how her work has resisted these types of categorization.
PhD Student, Art History, Indiana University, USA
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