I’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.
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.