The Manifestation of Legacy: Our Review of ‘Eva Hesse’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - March 01, 2017
The Manifestation of Legacy: Our Review of ‘Eva Hesse’

Eva Hesse’s aesthetic from all the stages in her career echoes, reverberates through artists that have come after her. I know this because I have seen this. Because she manifests in the work of artists after her. And I am grateful for Eva Hesse, Marcie Begleiter’s documentary about her life.

The documentary’s pretty linear and straightforward. It covers Hesse’s life from the time she studied art in 1955 to the decade and a half after. It drops hints about her past, like her last name and her relationship with her father and stepmother. And those hints develop into flashbacks that delve deeper.

Hesse was a German Jewish child. She was a refugee. Her mother developed a bipolar disorder because she was unable to deal with being unable to rescue her own parents. Those are important aspects of her identity and thinking, a person with facets, her past weighing on her present.

The art schools at first frustrated Hesse. But she was also a person constantly educating herself. The documentary is great at contextualizing the scenes where she worked, especially the one in New York City. It shows the work of her contemporaries as much as it does hers. It was an exciting time in the art world then.

She married artist Tom Doyle. He’s the kind of man that people date just to know that they shouldn’t make that same mistake again. She went with him to Germany. It was a temporary move that took a bit of a personal toll because of her past connection there. Doyle also became uncontrollable there.

The film interviews him, a man who grew old, a person well meaning but lacking self-awareness. It also interviews her sister. The latter lets us explore more of Hesse’s childhood. She greatly contributes in, sorry, painting a picture of the artist who did her best to overcome her personal troubles.

She divided time between working and visiting her past. The inadvertent visual inspiration in and her correspondences with her artist friend Sol Lewitt from home provided great support. Seeing the ‘junk’ on the industrial loft where she stayed, she decided to transition from painting to sculpture.

The film shows these letters and her diaries. Those things recorded her artistic process both in Germany and her return to New York City. And throughout the documentary, even from when it began, we see her work that the camera lovingly captures for us.

The documentary closes up on some of her pieces as well as the sketches she uses to plan them. These works are textured, weighted, monumental. One look into the pieces and I understand them. And these shots make me not care about the people who don’t, no matter how much I hear them.

Hesse’s industrial pieces have a human essence. The way the film depicts them transcend the cliche that art movies are just glorified slide shows. And it’s fortunate that Begleiter found work that’s worth immortalizing in a documentary. The film then becomes a conversation between itself and the work.

Her work got its proper due during her time, but she still has to face more hurdles. Her female colleagues who survive today echo her beliefs, that ‘excellence has no sex’. She pushed for more recognition, for one man shows where her work can stand on its own.

Artists can’t live forever but it’s still sad that Hesse’s no longer with us. Selma Blair reads out Hesse’s letters and diaries, and Bob Balaban reads her father’s correspondences. And there’s the sense that both actors capture those people’s spirits, helping us hold on to those people for longer.

  • Release Date: 3/1/2017
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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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