Eva Hesse Detail of Untitled 1967
Eva Hesse
Detail of Untitled 1967
Drawing on paper
27.8 x 21.6 cm

1936

Eva Hesse is born in Hamburg, Germany. Her parents are Ruth and Wilhelm Hesse, a lawyer.

1938

Eva and her sister Helen are sent to a children’s home in Holland to escape Nazi pogroms against the Jews.

1939

Reunited, the Hesse family travel to London, and then to New York. Wilhelm Hesse trains to become an insurance broker. Over the next few years, Ruth Hesse sinks into severe depression.

1945

Eva Hesse becomes an American citizen. Her parents are divorced, and Wilhelm remarries.

1946

Ruth Hesse commits suicide.

1952

Eva studies advertising design at the Pratt Institute of Design, New York. Dissatisfied, she abandons the course the following year.

1954–7

Enrols at the Cooper Union to study fine art.

1957–9

Takes BFA course at Yale School of Art and Architecture, where she studies painting with Josef Albers.

1959

Returns to New York, and continues to paint. She supports herself by working in a jewellery store, and as a textile designer.

1960

Meets artist Sol LeWitt, who would become a friend and important influence.

1961

Hesse’s drawings and watercolours are included in several group exhibitions. She marries the sculptor Tom Doyle.

1963

Hesse’s first solo exhibition, a small group of drawings, is held at the Allan Stone Gallery in New York. She moves to a loft in the Bowery district of New York, where her neighbours include artists Robert Ryman, Robert and Sylvia Mangold and Lucy Lippard.

1964

Friedrich Arnhard Scheidt, a German collector, offers to support Doyle and Hesse in Germany for a year, in exchange for a selection of the work produced. They settle in Kettwig an der Ruhr, near Essen, with the top floor of an abandoned textile factory as their studio. Hesse travels, makes contact with European artists, and works intensively. Initially she draws machine parts and pieces of cord left lying around in the factory. She then uses these objects as materials to make her first brightly painted constructions.

1965

Hesse makes her last paintings. Her new constructions are shown in a one-person exhibition in Düsseldorf. After returning to New York, she concentrates on making sculptures.

1966

Hesse and Doyle separate. Hesse’s reputation as a sculptor grows, and she wins praise for works shown in group exhibitions Abstract Inflationism and Stuffed Expressionism and Eccentric Abstraction. Grid patterns become an important element in Hesse’s sculpture, reflecting her engagement with minimalism. Wilhelm Hesse dies in Switzerland.

1967

Hesse makes a number of works in series, or using mathematical progressions. She also begins to use latex in her sculptures, initially as a casting material, then applying it to the surface of works with a brush. Later in the year, she uses commercial fabricators for the first time, commissioning Arco Metals to build a steel cube structure for Accession II.

1968

Hesse creates her first fibreglass sculptures, aided by Douglas Johns, a partner at Aegis Reinforced Plastics who becomes her technical adviser and assistant. A solo exhibition Eva Hesse: Chain Polymers is held at the Fischbach Gallery, New York. Hesse begins teaching at the School of Visual Arts, New York.

1969

Takes part in When Attitudes Become Form, an influential exhibition that opens in Switzerland and travels internationally. In April she collapses, and is diagnosed with a brain tumour. She is operated on twice, and undergoes radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The sculpture Expanded Expansion appears in the exhibition Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials at the Whitney Museum. Hesse attends the opening in a wheelchair.

1970

Although increasingly weak, Hesse continues to work on her sculpture. In March, she re-enters hospital for a third brain tumour operation. She dies on May 29, at the age of 34.