A documentary set for release in April 2016, will reveal never-before-seen footage and writings of Eva Hesse, illuminating the short life of the extraordinary artist.
From escaping Nazi Germany with her sister when she was only 2 years old to redefining anti-form sculpture in the 1960s, Hesse’s life is movie-worthy. Living in New York, Hesse challenged the prevalent structures of minimalism with a feminist practice. Right as her career was starting to take off, she tragically died at 34 from a brain tumor.
Eva Hesse, born on Jan. 11, 1936, in Hamburg, Germany, was the second child of Wilhelm Hesse, an attorney, and Ruth Marcus Hesse.
When she was 2 years old, Eva and her sister, Helen, escaped on a Kindertransport, the name given to rescue trains used to help children escape Nazi Germany. The following year, Eva’s parents were finally able to reunite with their daughters.
The Hesse family resettled in New York City in 1939, moving into a German Jewish community in Washington Heights.
In 1945, Hesse’s parents divorce. Her father retained custody of the girls and remarried shortly afterwards.
On the week of Eva’s 10th birthday in 1946, Ruth Marcus killed herself.
“My life has been so traumatic, so absurd, there hasn’t been one normal, happy thing,” Hesse later wrote. “I’m the easiest person to make happy, and the easiest person to make sad because I’ve gone through so much. And it’s never stopped.”
Hesse earned a certificate in design in 1957 from Cooper Union School.
In 1959, Hesse completed the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Yale, where she studied under Josef Albers, among others.
The artist then returned to New York, where Hesse worked as a textile designer. Here, she met minimalist artists Sol LeWitt, David Weinrib, Donald Judd, and Tom Doyle. In 1961, she married Doyle.
Living on Bowery Street with Doyle, Hesse started her career as an expressionist painter. In 1961, she appeared in a group exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.
In 1963, Hesse and Doyle traveled to West Germany where they stayed for more than a year. It’s here that Hesse’s art started to transform, as she worked in an abandoned textile factory with the discarded materials left behind.
Hesse’s first solo show of sculpture was in 1965 at the at the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Hesse then returned to New York with her marriage in tatters, but with a style of art that was decisively her own.
In the city, Hesse started collecting materials along Canal Street, such as latex, fiberglass and plastic. She pushed these materials to their limits, creating unstable sculptures that suggested bodily forms or emotional states.
Hesse was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1969 and soon after underwent her first operation. The following month, she attended the opening of Anti-Illusion at the Whitney Museum of Art in a wheelchair.
The next year, while continuing to work, she underwent two more operations, but on May 29, 1970, Hesse succumbed to her disease. That same month, she appeared on the cover of Artforum, which Hesse was able to see before she died.
Eva Hesse, directed by Marcie Begleiter and produced by Karen Shapiro, will premiere on April 27, 2016 at New York’s Film Forum, followed by a wider release across the country.
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