Feature

Eva Hesse Studiowork

The show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston consists of objects found in the artist's studio after her death.

Institute of Contemporary Art, BostonThrough Oct. 10

Eva Hesse was, “without doubt, one of the most influential artists” of the past half-century, said Sebastian Smee in The Boston Globe. Arriving at a moment when minimalism seemed played out, she not only broke up the movement’s all-male club but gave it an “afterlife.” Although the young sculptor embraced minimalism’s trademark “grids, repetition, and abstraction,” she injected her works with “a feeling for poetic associations—partic­ularly with skin and bodily matter—that would prove enormously influential.” Too bad, then, that the ICA’s “hermetic” new exhibit fails to capture any of that magic. Trotting out 40-some disparate objects the artist left in her studio when she died of a brain tumor in 1970, at age 34, it’s “the kind of show that presupposes a familiarity, if not an infatuation, with Hesse’s work—and even then risks triggering disappointment.” It’s a stretch to call many of these items artworks at all.

Indeed, it’s like listening to “studio outtakes from a rock legend who died young,” said Greg Cook in The Boston Phoenix. In other words: “cool, but interesting mostly to hard-core fans.” You’d have to be fairly well indoctrinated to find meaning in such ephemera as the “dull grid of metal washers on a board,” or the “boomerang-like stuffed-canvas things” that vaguely suggest the germ of some never-completed Hesse masterpiece. Happily, though, there are a few pieces on display that “begin to suggest what has given her art staying power.” For instance, a “pair of black shapes—one looks like a pear, the other a sausage—are connected by a tube suspended by a nail.” Provocatively “eccentric,” they seem in equal measures “natural and alien, and definitely alive.”

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