One of the most intriguing parts of the process of working on At Work has been immersing myself in the worlds of each of the three featured artists. Contemporary art prompts you to ask questions. What was the artist trying to convey, and what were their thoughts and ideas? What were they trying to work through? Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to start off this discussion by sharing some of my research on the art and lives of Eva Hesse, Betty Goodwin and Agnes Martin.
German-born American artist Eva Hesse‘s short life was filled with struggle – separation from her family during their escape from Nazi Germany, her mother’s suicide, her failed marriage, and illness (she died at 34 of a brain tumour). But through it all she created a huge body of work that speaks to her creative and resilient spirit.
Hesse pushed the boundaries of sculptural practice in the 1960s, and is known for experimenting with unconventional materials such as latex, fibreglass, cheesecloth, and rope. Her sculptures are playful, but also startlingly visceral. The structure of her works sometimes suggest the body, and you can also sense her own presence in her work – you can see how she would have folded, wrapped or shaped the materials she used. The passage of time comes across in her art as well, both the time taken to create the pieces, as well as the effect of time on them. The materials Hesse used are fragile, and the works deteriorate over time, but these changes in the artworks themselves perhaps reflect our changing interpretations and impressions of art. Hesse herself did not assign fixed meanings to her works, she wanted viewers to reach their own conclusions, based on their own experiences with her art.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Eva Hesse, here are a few of the books that I have been avidly reading:
And this collection of essays contains an amazing interview with Eva Hesse herself.
Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters student in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.