One really wonderful thing about being an artist is to influence and be influenced. Eve Hesse and Sol LeWitt did just this not only in their works, but also in support toward one another as friends. I have often read about how LeWitt influenced Hesse’s work, but rarely about how she was influential to his before her death after which he created, Wall Drawing #46 (1970), as a tribute to her life and work. From this perspective along with the knowledge that uniquely for both artists, process and materiality were vital aspects of their works and between them as friends it makes perfect sense that their art was displayed together in the 2011 exhibition, “Eve Hesse and Sol LeWitt”, at Craig F. Starr Gallery in New York.

The exhibition curator, Veronica Roberts, wrote in the show catalogue an essay that begins: “In 1970, Eve Hesse died at the age of 34. When Sol received word of her death, he was in Paris preparing a show that would open a few days later. In that short time he made a brand new work dedicated to Eva. It was the first time in his entire career that he made ‘not straight lines.’  Everything before that—whether Yaffa-block-like sculptures of ‘incomplete cubes’ or his ‘wall drawings’ with their ordered lines you could stencil notebook paper off of—was never anything but straight.” [1]  As stated by Valerie Hellstein, Hesse belonged to the camp of artists whose works emerge from both process and materiality “as intricately bound together, the one informing the other.”  While looking at images of some of the pieces on display during the LeWit-Hesse exhibit, it is easy to see that this was true for LeWitt too (perhaps less so about materiality), and that many of their works can easily be defined, to me, as creating an important meeting point of dialogue.  One “dialogue” among numerous examples of influences like the fact that they both sometimes worked with circle, rectangle, and square modules, can be found between Hesse’s Accession V (1968) and LeWitt’s 3x3x3 (1965).  Some works were inscribed with dedications to one another, such as Eva Hesse’s Untitled piece (below top) that is inscribed on the back side, “For Sol—Eva Hesse 1966” and LeWitt’s Drawing Series 1/3241/A&B inscribed on the lower left “For Eva November 6, 1968”.

A very well known letter written in 1965 by LeWitt to Hesse circulates the Web as whole and in parts, as well as in a wide range of artistic and commercial appropriations. A photocopy of the original letter can be viewed as an addendum to one of Art21’s blogs.[2] Over the years I have come across his letter as re-articulated through the “voices” of artists of many genres, and always through an inspirational lens regarding struggle, encouragement, and individuality. In one particularly fascinating 21st century articulation in MOCATV’s Lyric Video series is a collaborative work produced by Aaron Rose (Beautiful Losers, director) with director, animator Thomas McMahon and the band, Rancid.[3]  I mention this because it is one example of how former artworks, Sol LeWitt’s in particular, influence artist’s process and materiality decades later.  It is interesting to note here that in LeWitt’s letter of encouragement to Hesse, he wrote lists of words like “…struggling, grasping, confusing…”… and “tumbling, scumbling, scrambling…” that might easily be thought of as a kind of mirroring of her use of the Mel Bochner’s gift of a thesaurus to aid her in finding words that could best drive her works, fit their content, and contextualize her work’s titles, as explained in the reading below by Briony Fer.[4] These are sung in the video by punk rock singer, Tim Armstrong, along with visuals taken from Sol LeWitt’s motifs.

This dialogue between friend artists and later varying artistic articulations of something as simple as a letter speaks to how, from a movement or era, art is still generatively carried through, albeit drastically changed, over time. Veronica Roberts has a new book, Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, due to be released in 2014. The book will also contain essays by Lucy Lippard and Kirsten Swenson, It should be every bit as informative as Fer’s book, and I can’t help but wonder if it was written as an answer to a call.

[1] Amy Whitaker. “The Friends and Family Plan: Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse”. May 17, 2011. Art21 Blog. Web.

[2] PDF of photocopy of Sol Le Witt’s letter to Eva Hesse: Web.

[3] MOCATV. “Learn to Say F**k You”. April 23, 2013. Web.

[4] Briony Fer. The Infinite Line: Remaking Art After Modernism. New Haven, CT. Yale: University Press. 2004.

Reading List:

  • Briony Fer.”Studio”. The Infinite Line: Remaking Art After Modernism. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2004. Pp. 117-143. Print.
  • Leo Steinberg. “Contemporary Art and the Plight of its Public”, Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth Century Art. 1972. New York: Oxford University Press. Pp. 3-16. Print.

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