The catalogue better than the exhibition -? by Olga Norris

Eva_Hesse_Studiowork_FlyerI’m really cheating here, because I have neither seen the exhibition in question, nor finished reading the catalogue.   I did plan to see the show, had read the reviews: here, here, here, and here, but did not manage to get up to Edinburgh.  My consolation was the catalogue brought back by my husband who did see the exhibition.  I expected to flick through, disconsolate at having missed it; but no – this document more than makes up for missing seeing the display itself.

It’s always a question with Hesse’s work anyway – is this what she saw when she made it?  The materials have discoloured and altered in other ways over the intervening years.  And in any case, having read the first three chapters of the catalogue I realise that Briony Fer’s text makes us think so compellingly about the studio context of these pieces rather than the crisp empty vacuum of a white cube gallery.

This book is brilliant (so far): discussing not only Hesse, but the artists around her, and looking not directly at the major pieces of art and their meaning.  Rather she concentrates on how the art comes about – what accidents lead to pieces and their presentation – how, for instance the way that Sol LeWitt displayed in a glass case find little pieces gifted to him by Hesse inspired her deliberately to group works that way. 

The studio is all important, acting as context, sketchbook, inspiration, and critic, and so much more.  Fer’s examination of Hesse’s studio ‘arrangements’ on grid tables, her own work next to all sorts of other work and ephemera reveals so much more of the artist’s thinking than just looking at the individual pieces themselves.  And by the way shows that curiosity about other artists’ studios and their contents is a valid study and not just Interiors nosiness!

This book is making me think hard, and I am enjoying what is presented and where it inspires me to explore.  I see now why I so loved the extraordinary ephemera that I found and photographed when I visited Henry Moore’s studios (he had several sheds etc. around his grounds) in the early 1980s.

Henry Moore 5 Henry Moore 8

Henry Moore 9

True, I would have loved to see the work itself too, but this document by Briony Fer is providing me with the most enjoyable mental meal I’ve had for some time.

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4 Responses to “The catalogue better than the exhibition -? by Olga Norris”


  1. 1 olganorris October 29, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Margaret, I do follow your posts about your sculpture class with great interest. I imagine that being process-oriented is at the front of your mind just now. I find it a fascinating thought that Hesse would have been so interested to see what has happened to her work since she made it, and would doubtless have been more positively concerned with the inherent conservation ‘problems’. Especially as she was always concerned to provide an ‘ick’ quality in the work. That is certainly true for me. I find that I am equally repelled and fascinated by the work – but I find her a compelling artist, and come back to her time and again.

    I am nearing the end of the catalogue now, and am about to pass it to a friend for a while – after which I fully intend to read it again, but chapter by chapter and with more time for pondering, I hope.

  2. 2 margaret October 28, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Eva Hesse was one of the artists discussed in my sculpture class last week. I touched on her briefly on my blog, where I give a blow-by-blow account of the classes. The main point made was that she was very process-oriented, doing material studies and experiments — the sort of practice that has you noticing changes and juxtapositions. She started as an abstract painter – it was the 1960s after all – and the context was minimalism and “heavy steel sculpture” – so hers is a very original voice.

    Thanks for recommending the catalogue, Olga – sounds very worth reading!

  3. 3 olganorris October 23, 2009 at 8:53 am

    You are so right about our overlooking art writers. I must say that the work of John Richardson on Picasso has illuminated that artist for me despite the fact that I have been reading about him for over 40 years. This book on Hesse has made me determined to revisit the other books that I have on her, and to look anew at her body of work.

  4. 4 Clairan October 21, 2009 at 6:26 am

    Olga,

    Thanks for posting! Eva Hesse’s work is fascinating, and I had pretty much forgotten about her, so your reminding me is valuable to me in itself. It’s always good to be able to go into someone’s studio and get a glimpse into their mind, their ways of seeing and working. How wonderful that a catalogue has been able to be so valuable to you. The author has certainly done a great job there. We so rarely examine the work of art writers, and yet they can be so influential.


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