Eva Hesse's Influence Today? Conversations with Three Contemporary Artists

Article excerpt

Duchamp: When one goes to see people, one is influenced, even if one doesn't think about it!

Cabanne: Sometimes influence comes out later.

Duchamp: Yes, forty years later!

-from Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp

Influence is retrieving its value as clear signs of a return to citing sources are surfacing. Museums feature major exhibitions of artists' works and their influences on later artists. One recent example was Manet/Velasquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting, which tracked the influence of the Spanish painter's work over some 250 years.1 Critics reviewing all types of exhibitions don't hesitate to identify possible influences and sources.

My intention in examining influence has always been twofold: to trace the development of an artist's style and content as it moves toward maturation and, second, to locate what the artist has gained from a mentor or mentors and where she has diverged to create an individual or original artwork.

Often, the intentions and words of the artist differ from critical analysis, but both have a significant place in getting a grasp on the work. In Eva Hesse's case, her own profuse writings (journals, diaries, interviews, notes) continue to dominate critical thinking and often suppress her actual aims. A revelation to viewers was the coverage of Hesse's original reliefs and machine drawings (influenced by Francis Picabia) in an essay by Renate Petzinger, the Wiesbaden-based cocurator of the retrospective exhibition Eva Hesse, shown in 2002-03 in San Francisco, Wiesbaden, and London.2 Symposiums conducted in Weisbaden were designed to research further the influence of German artists on Hesse's work. Recently, the American Lee Bontecou and the Swede Oyvind Fahlstrom have been acknowledged as influences on Hesse's work.

The following conversations with three contemporary artists reveal their degree of acknowledgment, acceptance, or rejection of influence. While these artists come from different generations, they were all academically trained as painters and later became sculptors. In each conversation I have tried to capture in the artist's own voice the influence of her time period and where she came from and lived.

Time does not diminish the importance of influence on an artist's work throughout her or his career. Artists don't necessarily discard what they've gained from other, earlier sources. Influences become part of their artistic lineage, lead to new directions that merge with other ideas, and may eventually become submerged. A major reason for choosing these artists was their ability to highlight their individualities while noting their debts to Hesse. One feature that becomes evident in the conversations was the artists' awareness of the change in the relationship between the pictorial and the sculptural.

Conversation with Jackie Winsor

Jeanne Siegel: You arrived in New York in 1967, an extremely active period of social and political upheaval.

Jackie Winsor: The mood of the time was very particular-the Vietnam War and the unrest at home. I spent my graduate years trying to get the courage to chop off the big toe of my husband so he didn't have to go to war. There was also the emotional chaos around the nationwide racial conflicts. The art world at the time was a tiny place. You could see every exhibition you wanted in about an hour and a half. It was an unimaginably different time in SoHo. People were living illegally in loft buildings and being kicked out by the Fire Department or the landlord in the middle of the night. After 5:00 P.M. the streets were empty. It was just rats and you. There were no expectations around money.

Siegel: Around 1970, women were beginning to make inroads into the privileged realms of men. It seems to me that you and Eva Hesse would have been affected by the early feminist discourse. Was this important for you?

Winsor: Yes. I became aware of feminist activity around 1969 and regularly attended large, informal meetings with other women artists from the neighborhood. …