Drawings by Eva Hesse Offer Penetrating Look at Her Life and Work, at the Allen

Eva Hesse in her Bowery Studio, New York, NY, Winter 1967–68. Gift of Helen Hesse Charash, 1977.52.72.27.

Delayed by two years due to the pandemic—and after appearing at Museum Wiesbaden, Hauser & Wirth New York, and mumok in Vienna—this exhibition of more than seventy works on paper by artist Eva Hesse returns to Northeast Ohio for its run at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, on the campus of Oberlin College.

Drawn entirely from the Allen’s collection, Forms Larger and Bolder: Eva Hesse Drawings illustrates the important role that drawing played throughout Hesse’s career. The Oberlin iteration is the most comprehensive of the tour, with the addition of materials from the Eva Hesse Archive (housed at the Allen), and the pioneering sculpture Laocoön (1966), which was one of the first museum acquisitions of a sculpture by Hesse when the Allen acquired it in 1970.

Eva Hesse, Laocoön, plastic tubing, rope, wire, papier-mâché, cloth, and paint, 1966. Fund for Contemporary Art and gift from the artist and Fischbach Gallery, 1970.32.

German-born American artist Eva Hesse (1936–1970) produced a prodigious body of work that collapsed disciplinary boundaries and forged inventive approaches to materials, forms, and processes. Although Hesse died far too young—of a brain tumor at age 34—her works were major touchstones of the post-minimalist movements of the 1960s, informed and enriched by her friendships with New York minimalists Donald Judd, Mel Bochner, and Sol LeWitt, whose work she greatly influenced in turn.

Forms Larger and Bolder features a selection of Hesse’s earliest drawings, which chart the origins of her enduring engagement with the medium as a primary site for her experimentation with new ideas and processes. Also included are drawings from her first mature bodies of work, in the early 1960s: drawings she made in Germany in 1964–5, which include collages in an abstract expressionist mode—”wild space,” as Hesse called them in a letter to Sol LeWitt; so-called “machine drawings” from the same period; and a selection of working sketches and diagrams from 1967 to 1970 that shed light on some of her most significant sculptures.

Eva Hesse, No Title, Collage, gouache, ink, and graphite on paper,1964. Gift of Helen Hesse Charash, 1983.109.20

Although Hesse’s career was centered in New York City, she visited Oberlin for two days in 1968 at the invitation of Ellen Johnson, then an art history professor at Oberlin College. Hesse arrived with a stack of recent drawings that so impressed Johnson and her colleague Athena Tacha, the Allen’s first curator of modern art, that they mounted an impromptu exhibition in the art classroom building behind the museum.

Tacha had first heard of Hesse through artists Sol LeWitt and Mel Bochner, and had visited her studio in New York, where she first saw Hesse’s Laocoön sculpture. At the urging of Johnson and Tacha, the Allen acquired this work in 1970.

Recognizing the Allen’s early interest in Eva Hesse’s work, the artist’s sister, Helen Hesse Charash, decided to donate both archival materials and hundreds of artworks to the museum. The Eva Hesse Archive comprises more than 1,300 items related to the late artist: notebooks, diaries, datebooks, sketchbooks, photographs, exhibition-related ephemera, postcards, and letters. These materials join more than 300 artworks by Hesse in the Allen’s permanent collection—a resource for scholars and a living testament to the artist’s boundless creativity and determination.

Eva Hesse, No Title, collage, charcoal, crayon, and graphite on paper, 1962. Gift of Helen Hesse Charash, 1983.106.7.

Accompanying the exhibition is the book Eva Hesse: Oberlin Drawings, which documents the more than 300 drawings by Hesse in the Allen’s collection ($60 at the museum and $70 online, including shipping).

Organized by the Estate of Eva Hesse and Hauser & WirEva Hesse, No Title, collage, charcoal, crayon, and graphite on paper, 1962. Gift of Helen Hesse Charash, 1983.106.7.th in collaboration with the Allen, the exhibition would not have been possible without the generous and transformative gifts of the late artist’s sister, Helen Hesse Charash.

Forms Larger and Bolder was curated by Andrea Gyorody, former Ellen Johnson ‘33 Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Barry Rosen of the Estate of Eva Hesse.


Forms Larger and Bolder: Eva Hesse Drawings is on view through June 5, 2022.


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