On Wednesday, February 8, 2017, the Alfred University campus hosted an event featuring a documentary on Eva Hesse, a German artist whose works from the 1960s are held in high regard, even to this day. The documentary covered her younger years, her interactions with other artists of her time, and the span of her career throughout the 1960s in places such as New York City, where she spent most of her adulthood.
The documentary intended to showcase the history of Hesse, and how her post-minimalist art reflected her emotions throughout the years. Hesse endured painful struggles throughout most of her life, from fleeing Nazi Germany, losing her mother to suicide at a young age, all the way to the brain tumor that led to her untimely death. Her work was can be described as a “strong silence”, with repeating patterns signifying reiteration of a point, yet not being loud as evidenced by the lack of strong, eye catching colors. It gave this feeling of being beat up by the world, just hanging there almost as if it was to represent a crucifixion. This reflects Hesse herself, seeing how she was not the most exuberant person in social settings, being too emotionally damaged and shrewd by her family history, feeling exhausted of all the suffering she endured. She was unable to conform to intentionally crowd-pleasing and outspoken forms of art at the time. Instead, she quietly conveyed what it felt to be small and helpless, with very somber emotions being expressed. Straying away from pop art, she kept things small and simple in her artwork, and her own lifestyle reflects this. The way she uniformly fit with the concept of post-minimalism was her voice to the world.
Hesse was a significant figure in her time period, not only due to the quality of art that she produced, but because the mind behind the art was the mind of a woman. Her work was seen to be on a “man’s level”, but despite her skill, she was denied by many galleries. Eventually, her efforts came to fruition, and her work became more prominently featured in galleries that typically showcased work crafted by males. Resonating with feminist ideals, she yearned to make her creations speak volumes, not only of herself, but of women as a whole. However, her notable quote, “Excellence has no sex”, denotes pure feminism, but makes it clear that art can be great when produced by women simply because it can be done just as well as any human being. This circumstance was unheard of beforehand, and became a notable factor in the second wave of feminism in the 1960s. Her colleagues even revered her, complimenting that the thought process behind everything she produced was beyond anyone else’s, and due to her history, could never have existed otherwise. In a time of turbulence and shifting moods among social groups, Hesse became an example of the potential of artists and the potential of women, and brought change to life.