Eva Hesse, No Title, Oil on canvas. 20 x 20 inches. Verso on upper stretcher ‘August 1960 eva hesse Top.’ On lower stretcher ‘eva hesse 1960.’ Private collection, New York. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

I need to take one more thinking lap with the paintings by Eva Hesse on exhibit at the Hammer Museum. (I wrote briefly about this show in an earlier post.) Thanks to the Hammer’s regular vetting of blogs and online reviews (they do a better job of tracking the penumbra of responses to their exhibits that than just about any arts institution I follow), I found my way to a thoughtful and insightful response to the Hesse show by Michelle Plochere on Nancy Cantwell’s excellent blog, The Times Quotidian.

From Plochere’s post:

These are paintings, as suggested by the exhibition title, that are literally haunted by process. The brushwork is free and expressionistic; the forms and faces are stripped to their essentials: wraith-like figures with round hips, bellies and breasts, and skull-shaped heads with globular eyes and insistent slashes for mouths. Given that she had been in psychoanalysis for 3 years prior, it is tempting to read the works purely in terms of investigative self-portraiture, with multiple selves and emotional states represented, and the didactic panels in this show take full advantage of this opportunity. But the paintings feel more like excisions, a shedding or ridding of representation in their subject/ object play. They are vital in their “undoing-ness,” their “painting out,” and this vitality in the un-knowing, un-painting, un-making of what in her sculpture she called “nothings, ” remained a through line in her work to the end. In her 1970 catalog notes for her final piece, tellingly entitled “Contingent, ” she writes:

“I remember I wanted to get to non art, non connotive, non anthropomorphic, non geometric, non, nothing, everything, but of another kind, vision, sort. From a total other reference point, is it possible? …. How to achieve by not achieving? How to make by not making? It’s all in that. It’s not the new. It is what is yet not known, thought, seen, touched but really what is not. And that is.”

This struggle is one most artists know about, but articulating that longing and search in language is hard to do. When couched as it is here, I couldn’t help but recall that perfect piece of poetic genius, The Snow Man, by Wallace Stevens:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

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