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How Eva Hesse Embraced Absurdity in Life and Art

In this exclusive clip from the documentary Eva Hesse, Lucy Lippard, Nancy Holt, and others reflect on the intimate character of Hesse’s sculptures.

(featuring artists Michael Todd, Ethelyn Honig, Nancy Holt and writer Lucy Lippard; Hesse’s journals voiced by Selma Blair; clip courtesy of evahessedoc.com)

“Her life had been absurd, her life at present was absurd, and she wanted to get that into the work,” says the artist Ethelyn Honig in the documentary Eva Hesse. Indeed, one of the recurring interpretations of Hesse’s work in the film — which had a theatrical release last year and was recently released on DVD — is that it was a reaction against the cool, impersonal, hyper-rational character of the Minimalist work that was in favor in the late 1960s. She embraced and sought to articulate the humor, irrationality, and messiness of the world while her peers championed cold materials and pure geometric forms.

“Eva liked when the work was more absurd because it was her view on life being absolutely absurd,” Marcie Begleiter, the documentary’s director, told me in a 2015 interview. “That was kind of key to her personality to me.”

In the exclusive clip above, Honig, fellow artists Michael Todd and Nancy Holt (who died just months after being interviewed), and art historian Lucy Lippard discuss the intimate nature of Hesse’s work and how she brought a more personal sensibility to her use of materials. Their sentiments are echoed by Hesse’s own words, sourced from her extensive diaries, which are read by actress Selma Blair to provide the documentary’s narration.

“We engage her through her writing,” Begleiter said. “Eva’s story, Eva’s writings are the whole arc of the narration, and that’s how you get to know her, along with the work.”

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