Out of the Past: Lucy R. Lippard Talks about Eva Hesse with Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson

Article excerpt

THE FOLLOWING CONVERSATION with Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt was recorded on June 5, 1973, at the loft they shared on Greenwich Street. It was the last time I saw Bob, who died in a plane crash in Texas six weeks later. (Nancy has been my neighbor in Galisteo, New Mexico, since 1995.) I was writing my book on Eva Hesse at the time and was taping interviews with mutual friends and other people close to her. I was struggling with how to write this book on someone I had known so well--how to concentrate on the art without denying the life, and without letting the life overwhelm the art. Sol LeWitt, Eva's best friend, was a constantly no-nonsense adviser on how to go about it.

While I originally wanted to do a "smooth" edit of this text, Holt and the editors of Artforum persuaded me to leave it "rough," as a kind of (embarrassing) time capsule. And so it stands.


LUCY LIPPARD: Mel [Bochner] mentioned a summer when you all saw a lot of each other.

ROBERT SMITHSON: I think it was '66, because that was when I wrote my article "Quasi-Infinities and the Waning of Space," where I included Eva.

NANCY HOLT: It's true. We saw each other about four, sometimes five times a week. We went to Max's [Kansas City] a lot, ate a lot at an Italian restaurant with Sol. I remember by the end of the summer Bob didn't want to see an Italian dish ever again.

LL: When did you meet Eva? Do you remember?

RS: I think it must have been '66. Sol introduced me to her.

NH: I remember exactly when: It was that January, a week after she broke up with Tom Doyle. Sol brought her over to our place, and I remember discussing with her, you know, how difficult it was to make that transition, when you've been with somebody all the time, and then suddenly being on your own.

LL: But, Bob, you talked to her mostly about her work?

RS: Yeah. I was impressed when I first went over to her studio. It had a strong impact on me. I know I was preoccupied at that time with a kind of counter to the prevailing Minimal situation myself. She seemed to have some of that in her work, but it seemed to derive from a biological-organism kind of view of things. In other words, it was like mummifications to me; it did have a rather funereal quality to it. But at the same time, it also had a kind of dark sense of humor. And then on another level, she was into sort of subverting the more geometric aspects of things. So she would work with essentially a regular shape and then violate that in some way. The part of the article that I wrote and put her in, I think it's called "The Vanishing Organism," something to that effect. It seemed to have to do with petrification, in other words, a kind of Beckett-like realm. She seemed to like Beckett, too, and she also had an interest in writing. She admired that quality, but she couldn't quite bring herself to do that, to articulate those things. The very last time I saw her, actually, she was talking about writing. She was always interested in my writing in that respect. It always seemed to be a counterpart in her work. It never seemed to assert itself as a single gestalt; it was always something there, a tension between the gestalt and the something splaying itself out.

LL: Did you think of it as a dialectic?

RS: Well, I would put it that way. I would say perhaps she did that, and it was there in the work. It was sort of an emerging thing. I noticed that there were lots of works that were sort of doubles. Like Metronomic Irregularity [1966]. It was like a nucleus was splitting. There was less interest in that "specific object" notion. In other words, it seemed more a critique of the positivism that Judd had been putting forth, and even LeWitt on that level. Her work seemed to be critical of that kind of realm.

LL: You're talking in a very objective way, like you're writing something ...

RS: Well, that's how I was writing about her work; that's how I wrote about it in '66, although it had more to do with the energy. …