Monday, April 25, 2016

The life and art of an unusual woman come together in Marcie Begleiter's EVA HESSE

This is clearly the week for artists, as, over the past several days, TrustMovies has viewed and covered very good documentaries about David Hockney, Edith Lake Wilkinson and now EVA HESSE. The last of these is a woman whose career took off in the late 1960s but by the end of May 1970 was dead. Before watching the fine new documentary written and directed by Marcie Begleiter, I knew little to nothing about Ms Hesse. Now I feel as though she was one of the most important, perhaps the most important of artists of that time period -- not simply able to understand and presage art trends of the day but to take them and make them her own, leaving us with a phenomenal amount of fine art (a retrospective of her work filled up the walls of the entire Guggenheim Museum) in which quality very likely equalled quantity.

This is Ms Begleiter's (the documentarian is shown at right) first film as writer and director, though she has held a number of art-related job on films over the past three decades. I think she has done a remarkable job of bringing together some marvelous archival footage, interviews with friends. family and other artists of the period so that we get quite a rich sense of Ms Hesse's life and her art -- from perspectives social, historical, artistic and especially psychological.

As Lucy Lippard, one of the many people interviewed here, explains, "With Eva, it's almost impossible not to think psychologically when you know her art and you know her as a person." After viewing this fine documentary, I suspect most audiences will feel they know both the woman and her art -- certainly better than they did going into the film.

Born in Germany, post the takeover of Hitler but just prior to WWII, Eva (shown above and below) and her sister were among the last Jewish children to leave Germany for Holland on the kindertransports. Eventually the sisters and their parents were reunited, ending up in the USA (the rest of Eva's extended family perished in the Holocaust).

We learn of her tentative steps toward art, as well as her relationships with friends and eventually with Tom Doyle the artist who would become her significant other for much of her short life, We see her expand and grow as an artist, with help from those friends -- Sol LeWitt was probably the biggest help (this artist loved her, and the two were extremely close, like 'family,' but as Eva noted, "You don't go to bed with your brother") -- until she was ready, as we're told, "to take all the influences she saw and then use them in her own way."

A trip to Germany, where she and her boyfriend worked on new art, was empowering -- even if, eventually, the two finally split. "Eva was very high maintenance," her ex explains, while admitting that, yes, maybe he did drink a little too much. All the while her work continued to grow in wit, charm, shock and meaning ("Hang Up," a splendid combo of painting as sculpture, is a particular amazement.)

She eventually treks from post-abstract impressionism to surrealism then to minimalism -- which was the art of the day -- but Eva kept it all personal and specific and consequently, perhaps, more womanly? She gets her own show at last, and then discovers new materials -- and even begins making these materials herself.

When the downturn comes, suddenly, it's a shock and a horror. Mostly, though, it seems beyond untimely. What might Eva have done had she lived to the length that most artists manage? But as finally explained:
"Life doesn't last. Art doesn't last. It doesn't matter." (That's Eva, below, with Josef Albers.)

Eva Hesse, from Zeitgeist Films and running a long but fascinating 105 minutes, opens this Wednesday, April 27, at Film Forum in New York City. It will open in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Monica Film Center on May 13. To view the many other playdates throughout the country, with cities and theaters listed, simply click here

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