Eva Hesse - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Eva Hesse, 'No title', Lot 23

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 16 May 2019

  • Provenance

    Donald Droll and Roy Leaf, New York (gifted by the artist in 1967)
    Droll/Kolbert Gallery, New York
    Ronald S. Lauder, New York
    Christie's, New York, May 8, 1990, lot 128A
    Acquired at the above sale via Jeffrey Deitch, New York by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum; Pasadena Art Museum; Berkeley, University Art Museum, Eva Hesse: A Memorial Exhibition, December 8, 1972 - November 11, 1973, no. 61, n.p. (illustrated)
    Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College; The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum; The Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University; The Baltimore Museum of Art, Eva Hesse: A Retrospective of the Drawings, April 20, 1982 - April 24, 1983, no. 69, pp. 22, 31 (illustrated, p. 76)
    Greensboro, Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina, Eva Hesse: A Retrospective of Drawings, May 22, 1984 - March 31, 1985
    New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, Eva Hesse: A Retrospective, April 15 - July 31, 1992, pl. 67, p. 192 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Lucy Lippard, Eva Hesse, New York, 1976, no. 166, p. 118 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed in 1967, No title showcases Eva Hesse’s resistance to any one art historical categorization. A key member of the art world in 1960s New York, Hesse occupied a unique position in a circle of post-minimalist artists, including Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Robert Ryman and others. The present work, rendered in subtle, gray graphite and ink washes features a grid of 49 circle motifs from which narrow, malleable pieces of nylon string protrude from their centers. Paralleling the artist’s refusal to be reduced to one particular movement, the work itself challenges classification as a single medium, straddling the disciplines of drawing and sculpture and appearing as a wall-bound object. Originally dedicated to the artist’s dealer and friend Donald Droll and fellow artist Roy Leaf, the work was exhibited for the first time in Hesse’s seminal 1972 show held at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York just two years after her death, one that would solidify her place in the discourse of post-war and contemporary art.

    Created at the pinnacle of the artist’s career, No title belongs to a small series of graphic works created between 1966 and 1968. In each of these intimately-scaled objects, Hesse explored the capabilities of both drawing and sculpture, having recently abandoned the medium of painting, and with it, the use of color. Hesse’s influences in this series, which features minimalist grids created through wash applications, harken back to the painterly compositions of her teacher at Yale University, Josef Albers, and also to monochromatic works by artists such as Jasper Johns. As Robert Pincus-Witten explained, “Eva Hesse’s drawing during 1966-68 emphasized modular and grid arrangements alluding, in this way, to the high regard in which Agnes Martin was held, although the delicacy of wash application in Hesse’s serial composition – as well as the single motif in isolation – equally refers to the target figure in the Jasper Johns encaustic paintings of the mid-50s” (Robert Pincus-Witten, Eva Hesse: A Memorial Exhibition, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1972, n.p.).

    It was also in 1966 that Hesse met key players in the art world including Donald Droll, at the time director of Fischbach Gallery, New York. According to her diaries, Hesse met Droll on October 28, 1966 through art critic and friend Lucy Lippard, and he immediately asked to buy several of her works. In the summer of 1967, Hesse visited Droll and painter Roy Leaf in Georgetown, Maine, after which Hesse made the present work in honor of their “Maine vacation”, as it is dedicated on the reverse. In the fall of 1968, she had her first one-woman show at Fischbach Gallery, an exhibition which signified the beginning of Droll’s unending support of Hesse and her Estate which would extend until his own death in 1985.

    Amongst her fellow sculptors and friends including Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt, Hesse’s practice was distinctly characterized by the use of malleable materials such as latex and nylon, rejecting traditional mediums of bronze and stone. Her most famous sculptural works, such as Hang Up, 1966, Art Institute of Chicago, consisted of grounded linear structures disrupted by hanging, pliable elements, an aesthetic choice that is also evident in the present work from which bendable plastic extends into the viewer’s space. In fact, it was Hesse’s training in the two-dimensional mediums of painting and drawing that allowed her to explore the expressive potential of her three-dimensional materials, which is realized in No title. According to Linda Shearer, the Guggenheim’s curatorial assistant who is credited with the idea for the artist’s 1972 exhibition, “the importance of Hesse’s training and experience as a painter and draftsman cannot be overlooked in any evaluation of her sculpture” (Linda Shearer, Eva Hesse: A Memorial Exhibition, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1972, n.p.).

    It was also Shearer who attributed Hesse’s relief works from 1964-1965 made while working at a textile factory in Germany, as the single precursor to her most successful graphic work, of which No title is an example. These reliefs represented the first time that Hesse would attempt to translate two-dimensional concepts into three-dimensions, a preoccupation that would define the rest of her career. Indeed, it was Hesse’s trip to Germany that both complicated and defined the artist’s relationship with the American minimalist movement. In Europe, Hesse encountered the works of German artists including Günther Uecker and Joseph Beuys. As Maria Kreutzer explained, “whereas minimalism used repetition and serial structure to eschew opposition in favor of structural organization, Hesse embraced both repetition and the paradigm of polar opposition to suggest variation as well as the process of transformation. Her deeply personalized feeling for materials shared much with Beuys and the artists of the Zero group, particularly Uecker: it was organic, visceral, and ultimately symbolic” (Maria Kreutzer, Eva Hesse: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1992, p. 79).

    The emotional undertones in Hesse’s oeuvre are conveyed not just in her choice of materials, but also in her symbols and motifs. Encountering a number of tragedies in the last years of her life, including the loss of her father, divorce from her husband, and her own deteriorating health, Hesse sought solace in her graphic and sculptural practice until her death in 1970. The cycle of obstacles that threatened to get in the way of her success was perhaps best symbolized by the repeated circles of her 1966-1968 series of works such as No title. “Coming close to answers but go in circles”, Hesse noted in her diary in 1966, and later, “all circles—grasping holding nothing ‘a great gesture around nothing’”, referencing a quote by her friend and fellow artist Mel Bochner. As Anna Chave espoused, “for Hesse the circle signified also the self-defeating emotional pattern in which she felt locked; the ‘vicious cycle’ or ‘painful cycle’ she referred to particularly in the period when she lost her husband and her father, in 1965 and 1966” (Anna C. Chave, Eva Hesse: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1992, p. 110).

    After her death, Hesse’s work has been a constant source of inspiration for contemporary draftsmen and sculptors. This coming November, her graphic work will be the subject of an exhibition at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna presenting numerous drawings from the collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, many of which were owned and donated by Donald Droll himself. Such shows highlight the importance of Hesse’s practice on current artistic pursuits today, making her one of the most important female artists of the 20th century.

Property from an Important European Collection


No title

dedicated "for Donald, for Roy our Maine vacation" on the reverse
nylon string, ink and graphite on paper, mounted to museumboard
14 x 14 in. (35.6 x 35.6 cm.)
Executed in 1967.

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for $3,980,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue