National Museum of Women in the Arts
Eva Hesse
January 11 1936 - May 29 1970
Photograph of Eva Hesse, unknown date, unknown photographer, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth Zürich, Switzerland. (c) The Estate of Eva Hesse
Place of Birth:
American, German
Phonetic Spelling:
AY-vah HESS-uh
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Graphic Artist, Mixed Media Artist , Painter, Sculptor
Conceptual Art, Minimalism, Other
Artist's Biography:
Eva Hesse was one of the most original and influential sculptors of the 1960s in the United States. Born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Hamburg, Germany, she fled the Nazis with her family and came to the United States when she was three. Hesse studied at the Pratt Institute, The Art Students League, The Cooper Union, and the Yale School of Art and Architecture. Her notebooks mention repeated abandonments: her parents’ divorce, her mother’s suicide, and Hesse’s separation from her husband. Throughout her life she battled mental and physical instability. Hesse died of a brain tumor in 1970.

Together with a group of like-minded artists, including Robert Morris, Jackie Windsor, and Lynda Benglis, Hesse modified the rational geometry and identical repetition of the 1960s Minimalism to what came to be known as Post-Minimalism, while retaining certain elements of Minimalism. However, where Minimalist work emphasizes its relationship to the viewer’s space, Hesse refocused that relationship on the viewer’s body itself and imbued it with erotic undercurrents. She also introduced an organic sensibility and element of chance to Post-Minimalist sculpture, and much of her work retains an intentional ugliness to create a sense of imperfection that opposes Minimalism’s flawlessness.

Hesse’s work has been described as combining opposing forces such as feminine/masculine principles, hardness/softness, and freedom/confinement. These coexisting incompatibilities give her work a feeling of internal absurdity, humor, animation, and humanness resulting in an emotional and psychological intensity that sets her work apart from other Post-Minimalists.

Part of Hesse’s originality lies in her use of unexpected materials, such as rubber, cord, translucent fiberglass, and latex. She also used techniques traditionally associated with feminine occupations, such as wrapping, winding, and threading. Hesse’s work has continued to influence other artists to this day. Her allusions to body parts, sexuality, and a feminine element have made her work particularly meaningful to many female sculptors, including Petah Coyne, Rona Pondick, and Kiki Smith.

Other Occupation(s):
Place(s) of Residence:
New York
Where Trained/Schools:
Yale School of Art and Architecture, New Haven, CT, USA (1957-1959) The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, NY, USA (1954-1957) The Art Students League of New York, New York, NY, USA (1953) Pratt Institute, New York, NY, USA (1952-1954)
Related Visual Artists:
wife of and collaborated with Tom Doyle friend of Sol LeWitt student of Josef Albers student of Rico Lebrun student of Bernard Chaet friend of Dan Graham friend of Mel Bochner friend of Donald Judd friend of Dan Flavin friend of Robert Mangold friend of Robert Ryman friend of Al Held friend of Grace Wapner influenced Clyde Connell influenced Petah Coyne influenced Louise Fishman influenced Rona Pondick influenced Kiki Smith
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Yale-Norfolk Summer Fellowship, Yale-Norfolk Summer School of Music and Art, Norfolk, CT, USA (1957)
Earliest exhibition:
Drawings: Three Young Americans, The John Heller Gallery, New York, NY, USA (1961)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Four Centuries of Women's Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts
Inside the Visible
Artist retrospective(s):
Eva Hesse, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, USA (2002) Eva Hesse: A Retrospective, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, USA (1992) Eva Hesse: A Retrospective of the Drawings, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, USA (1982-1983)
Related places
New York (died at)
Accession, 1967
Study for Sculpture, 1967
Study for Sculpture