The year 1965 was pivotal in the life of German-born American artist Eva Hesse (1936-1970) – so pivotal, in fact, that Savile Row gallery Hauser & Wirth London has made this the subject of its next exhibition. Opening on Wednesday January 30 and entitled simply Eva Hesse 1965, the museum-quality show documents the works Hesse created during her year-long residency in the small German town of Kettwig an der Ruhr.
Inspired by the disused machines and tools she discovered in the abandoned textile factory that was her studio, Hesse began her residency by making abstract-expressionist collages. These were followed by increasingly structured drawings and finally a series of 14 three-dimensional reliefs made from papier-mâché, paint, string and found objects.
These reliefs are the standout pieces of the exhibition. During her year in Germany, Hesse was afforded the freedom to exercise her unique ability to manipulate materials, and fans of her work will be fascinated to see the foundations of her later sculptural practice. For example, the protruding cord that appears on several works, including Legs of a Walking Ball (second picture), is a motif that reappears in the now-iconic sculptures she made on her return to New York.
Eva Hesse 1965 is a must–see show for anyone with an interest in this postminimalist artist, but there is also plenty here to delight those new to her work. Vividly coloured and playfully titled, these are captivating pieces even without the historical context. Who, for example, could fail to be uplifted by a work the colour of sunshine bearing the wonderfully onomatopoeic name Oomamaboomba (first picture)?