Executed in 1966, Iterate is an intensely evocative work that perfectly demonstrates the joint influences of Minimalism and autobiography that resulted in Eva Hesse's greatest creations. It was during a window of only half a decade that she developed the unique visual idiom upon which her reputation stands, and yet this half decade appears to have resulted in a lifetime's works.
The beginning of this phase occurred while she and her then husband, Tom Doyle, were staying in Germany, the country of her birth which she had had to flee as an infant in anticipation of the pogroms of the Nazi era. It was while there that she began to incorporate strange, seemingly random objects in her works, experimenting in particular with cords and string found on the floor of the abandoned factory in which she was working. Iterate, executed only a year later, shows how rapidly Hesse progressed in her use of these materials. Gone are the expressionistic paintings of her earlier years; in this work they are replaced by something idiosyncratic. The cords of grey that dangle from the square surface of Iterate are intensely visceral. They resemble stilled flows, as though this were a frozen forum of secretions.
In its implied fluidity-- and even implied fluids-- Iterate taps into a strange vein of unsettling eroticism that is reflected in her notes, which contain revealing comments on another master of soft objects, Claes Oldenburg:
"Oldenburg: as eroticism his work is abstract.
The stimuli arise from sensations rather than direct association with objects depicted."
These words could equally be applied to Iterate. The evocative softness of the hanging string equally plays on indirect association. Palpable yet somehow not quite tangible, the qualities of Iterate and the other sculptures of the last five years of Hesse's life have not only a physicality, but also a biology. Evoking a distinct element of the corporeal, Iterate examines Minimalism in a novel manner.
In Iterate, Hesse created a work that was the rawest and most poignant form of autobiography. It is therefore telling that, in an essay written for Artforum only a year after her death, Robert Pincus-Witten wrote that Hesse's classic period, this fruitful final half decade of her career, came about in large part because of two key personal crises: the death of her beloved father, and the deterioration of her marriage to Tom Doyle.
Hesse's most successful works, such as Iterate, thrives on the tension that she conjures by crashing the organic, autobiographical and random against the rigid, formal, impersonal and rational. In this light, the grid according to which Iterate is organized invokes a visual language that is reminiscent of science, of mathematics, of precision. It invokes, in short, the visual language of Minimalism, a movement with which she was often associated and within whose ranks many of the artists were her friends. In particular, one can see the residue of the influence of her friend and mentor, Sol LeWitt. And yet this is an effect that she deliberately subverts. Even here, in a work that lays some claim to the visual language of science and mathematics, she has introduced an irrational quality and methodology that is conventionally associated with feminine practice. This is evident in the string-like elements that disturb the rigid square of the canvas. The gray Iterate thus rebels against the expected color and figuration traditionally associated with paintings while also acting as an assault on the Euclidean authority of the square. Discussing her unique adaptation of-- and disruption of-- the forms of Minimalism to her own autobiographical and evocative ends, Hesse later recalled that her works from this period were initially greeted with misapprehension: "There was nobody doing anything like this. At the time, I mean, this was totally absurd to everyone... That was the height of Minimalism and Pop. I mean, not that I care. I really don't ever work like that... All I wanted was to find my own scene, my own world. Inner peace or inner turmoil, but I wanted it to be mine" (Hesse, quoted in B. Barrette, Eve Hesse: Sculpture Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1989, p. 42).
By undermining all these aspects of reason and authority, Hesse struck a delicate balance-- she adapted the means of Minimalism to an end that was wholly her own whole heralding subsequent developments in sculpture. Key to this was her fascination with repetition, a technique used often in Minimalism, for instance in the celebrated "Stacks" of Donald Judd or the geometric forms of Le Witt. Even the titles of Hesse's works often reveal the depth of this interest in repetition, not least that of Iterate. For within the artist's own notes, in a list of potential titles-- words and their meanings that she was gleaning from a thesaurus she had recently been given-- is "Iterate - To repeat, to do again." However, where the Minimalists tended to use repetition to emphasize the formal qualities of a shape, a formula or an object, Hesse used it as a means of illustrating the ridiculous and absurd aspects of life itself. "If something is absurd, it's much more exaggerated, more absurd it it's repeated," she explained. "Repetition does enlarge or increase or exaggerate an idea or purpose in a statement" (E. Hesse quoted in L. Lippard, Eva Hesse, New York, 1976, p. 5).
Acrylic, cord, wood shavings and glue on masonite
Signed and dated twice 'HESSE 1966 EVA HESSE 1967' (on the reverse)
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Gallery; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Pasadena Museum of Modern Art and Berkeley, University of California Art Gallery, Eva Hesse: A Memorial Exhibition, December 1972-February 1974, no. 15.
New York, Droll/Kolbert Gallery, Eva Hesse, June-July 1977.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery; Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller and Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Eva Hesse: Sculpture, May-September 1979, no. 14 (illustrated).
New York, Pat Hearn Gallery, Eva Hesse, November-December 1987.
New York, L&M Arts, Elemental Forms, October-December 9, 2006, p. 53 (illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
22 x 20 1/8 x 1¼ in. (55.9 x 51.4 x 3.2 cm.)
L. Lippard, Eva Hesse, New York, 1976, p. 88, no. 40, fig 118.
B. Barrette, Eva Hesse Sculpture Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1989, pp. 118-119, no. 46 (illustrated in color).
E. Sussman, ed., Eva Hesse, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 206, pl. 74 (illustrated in color).
H. Molesworth, "Words and Things: Eva Hesse's Readymades," DOCUMENTS, vol. 23, Spring 2004, pp. 84-85 (illustrated).
B. Rosen and R. Petzinger, Eva Hesse: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume II: Sculpture, New Haven, 2006, pp. 132 and 133, no. S55 (illustrated in color).
Helen Hesse Charash, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner