Eva Hesse: Studiowork at Berkeley Art Museum

Hesse is known for using synthetic materials as the basis for her work. Image courtesy of artmatters.

Many economists would argue that nothing is free. While something may have no monetary cost, a trade-off or an opportunity cost dissolves the notion that anything comes free of charge. Therefore, if a student were to see the free exhibit featuring American artist Eva Hesse’s studiowork at the Berkeley Art Museum, the time they spent at the exhibition would be time lost, theoretically.

Obviously, this is not the case. And, seeing as time is a theme central to Hesse’s work, the irony is far more entertaining and thought provoking than any economist’s take on the truths of our capitalist society.

Only on the art scene for ten years before dying from a brain tumor in May 1970 at the age of thirty-four, Hesse imbued her work with an element of temporality that is only further strengthened by the materials she chose to construct her pieces, elements that age badly over time.

Hesse is distinct for her use of a variety of materials—ranging from latex, fiberglass, and masking tape to wire mesh, cheesecloth, and wax—that are largely synthetic and reflective of the time in which she produced her work (the 1960s). Although her pieces look largely dystopian, like unearthed relics from a Fahrenheit 451-inspired bygone civilization, Briony Fer, co-curator of the exhibition, stated the latex and wire mesh were not meant to suggest technological or industrial surfaces, but instead the topography of the human body.

“More and more, as [Hesse] discovered new materials, she relied on their often bizarre and sensual effects to make the sexual reference for her, rather than incorporate recognizable body shapes,” Fer wrote in a guide for the exhibit.

With pieces resembling everything from vulvas to human skin, organs to emotions, the artist’s work provides meditations on the themes of the body and mortality juxtaposed to the modern, clinical world of today. Save for a few installations that are humbling in size to any viewer, the majority of Hesse’s work is quite small, comparable to the size of standard home d├ęcor. As a result, the pieces do not look entirely complete in their construction but the messages they convey through their form are completely holistic and impressive.

The artist relied on the “sensual effects” of the materials she used to convey images of the human body. Image source here.

Fer stated “studiowork” was used in the title of the exhibit in place of “test-pieces” or “prototypes” because of the complexity of the artist’s work. While her offerings may not be as massive in scale as a Bernini sculpture or as monolithic as the landscape art of Maya Lin, Hesse’s pieces are still entirely articulate.

“These are things made by Hesse on a daily basis, handmade and often intricate objects that invite us to think not only about the processes of art but what impulses—both conscious and unconscious—drive the making of art,” Fer stated.

Due to the artworks’ smaller scale, viewers may naturally consider the amount of time spent in the construction of each piece. And while these pieces may be small and not look overwhelmingly intricate, with a short life, with just a few materials, Hesse created artwork that does not lose its impact as time passes. The latex may become discolored and fragile, and the fiberglass yellowed, but those core elements of her artwork only amplify what they metaphorically represent: the human body.

And in that point, the aging of the human body in a modern world with its modern ideals that laud youth and ability, Hesse’s work and her short life really just become beautiful.

The Eva Hesse exhibit opened January 26 and runs until April 10, 2011 at the Berkeley Art Museum, which is located on 2626 Bancroft Way, between College and Telegraph. The exhibition is free for all UC Berkeley students and museum hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 11:00 am-5:00 pm.

Scott Hovdey
BARE Reporter

No comments:

Post a Comment