Pliable layers of natural latex rubber painted onto cheesecloth panels are buttressed with stiff fiberglass and polyester resin poles, forming an immense curtain that expands or contracts to conform to its surroundings. The stupendous structure evokes a mise-en-scene with a visceral quality from textures that suggest animal skin curtains and snakeskin “legs”. After being stored in a crate for more than three decades, the latex was fragile, yet the restored work exudes resilience and raw power that parallels the artist’s own short life.
On display for the first time in 35 years, Expanded Expansion (1969), Eva Hesse’s monumental masterpiece, triumphantly emerged from its grave at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum through the painstaking, nearly miraculous, restoration. A documentary short produced by the Guggenheim traced its rebirth from “unexhibitable” to reborn.
It’s the highlight of Eva Hesse: Expanded Expansion, a new exhibition that simultaneously invites us to examine the artist’s studio practice and to explore the transformation and afterlife of the titular work. We’re reminded of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates (1979-2005), begun a decade after Expanded Expansion.
Hesse strived in the late 1960s to create hybrid objects that transcended painting and sculpture, both embracing and eschewing the dominant Minimalist language of repetitive forms and hard edges, while celebrating her passion for materiality and incongruity.
We journey through Hesse’s creative process via a selection of smaller experimental works, as well as raw footage by filmmaker Dorothy Beskind, an interview with art historian and activist Cindy Nemser, and the artist’s sketches and notes, some typewritten and others scripted in heavy ink on lined notebook paper.
The German-born American artist left behind an enduring legacy during a prolific and influential career that ended abruptly when she was diagnosed in October 1969 with a brain tumor, and died on May 29, 1970, age of 34 after three failed operations. Her life was as precarious as her work.
Hesse was two years old when her observant Jewish parents sent her and her older sister, Helen Hesse Charash, to the Netherlands to escape Nazi Germany aboard one of the last Kindertransport trains. The family reunited nearly six months later, moved to England, and in 1939, emigrated to New York City, settling in Manhattan’s Washington Heights.
Devote a day to exploring the Guggenheim this summer, engaging with a vast array of exquisite art including the Cecilia Vicuña: Spin Spin Triangulene and Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle exhibitions.
Delve into New York-based Chilean artist, poet, activist, and filmmaker Vicuña’s paintings, works on paper, textiles, films, a site-specific Quipu (Knot) installation, and Ex-termination Living Quipu, on view September 5. The poetic title of Vicuña’s first solo museum exhibition in New York is born from new scientific discoveries the artist links to the Guggenheim’s spiral rotunda and the quipu. She underscores the relationship between science and Indigenous knowledge Vicuña has observed since she encountered cybernetics as a young student.
Themes of memory, language, science, and Indigenous spirituality and knowledge permeate Vicuña’s practice across disciplines. Her early figurative paintings amalgamate her biography with the rise of socialism, depicting Karl Marx, Chilean folk singer and social activist Violeta Parra, Andean popular art, animism, and Indigeneity.
Vicuña’s language-based Palabrarmas (word weapons) are politically charged, metaphorical riddles and poems exposing her conception of language as a living entity. Begun in the mid-1960s, her Quipu series features soft sculptures made of suspended strands of knotted and un-spun wool sometimes incorporating found objects. The system of knotting colored threads to convey complex narrative and numerical information was created in the Andes in South America and later abolished by European colonizers.
Continue your rotunda journey to encounter eighty paintings, watercolors, and woodcuts, along with a selection of his illustrated books, following Kandinsky’s earlier years in Russia and Germany through his exile in France. Drawing from the Guggenheim’s vast collection, the exhibition re-imagines Kandinsky’s career as a circular passage in reverse chronology through tenacious inquiry into spiritual expression.
On view through September 5, Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle examines how the wildly influential artist sought to liberate art from its entanglements with nature and representation, pursuing what he called the artist’s “inner necessity.” His creative travels through memory and identity, sensorial experience and spirituality, throughout his oeuvre, remain relevant to all of us and continue to inspire contemporary artists working across genres and geographies.