The Value of Eva Hesse
“It is possible to gain a reputation as a serious and important artist on the basis of work devoid of seriousness and importance.” – Geoff Dyer
Cooper Union Alumni: My parents attended school at Cooper Union in the fifties where they met another couple, Socrates and Susi Litsios. My mother Beatrice Joan Wilson Powell, Susi Litsios, and Eva Hesse all studied Fine Art and knew one another. This summer my father went to Chicago, took the above shot, and sent an email to friends and family. Arguments followed.
Heated Words: Susi responded at my previous post on Helen Frankenthaler. She summed up, “Dave (my father) did not choose one of Eva Hesse’s best pieces, but WOW think of how happy your kids would be to inherit it.” So who is Eva Hesse? The question led to a discussion of value, my mother’s art, and the “you get it or you don’t” defense. First, though, Eva Hess.
Eva Hesse died in 1970 at the age of 34. She fled Germany and the Nazis with her family. Her works are currently displayed at these venues: Art Institute of Chicago, Daros Collection, Zurich; Museum of Modern Art, Museum Wiesbaden, Germany; National Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art.
The Value of Value: Hesse’s works are now worth millions. Why? When the reasons to own a work are their resale value, what does that say about the work? Monet originals are also worth millions, but inexpensive Monet reprints are ubiquitous. I’d be curious to see how popular a Hesse knockoff would be.
You Get It or You Don’t: This phrase evades the need to think. Follow the creed of intellectual triage, satisfy curiosity, life is short, and when “it” is not worth getting, why pursue?
Offense Taken – Offense Intended: My mother is talented but lazy and insufficiently inspired, thus Susi thought it offensive and arrogant to compare famous artists to my mother, who “…has never confronted the wretched gallery system, or the real and unpitying art world.”
Exactly: I find it offensive that certain artists transform the art world with schlock. Especially in the age of genocide and massive human rights calamity. The high end art world has become the realm of the ultra rich and the sycophant. Tracey Emin and Frankenthaler and Hesse are an escape, and have failed to push society anywhere worthwhile. That art too often does nothing or renders an irrelevant voice is a shame and deserves excoriation.
Counterpoint: Susi wrote a spirited response, full of doubt (the sign of a thinking mind), and defended her aesthetic. She thinks Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst pure poppycock (we agree), she appreciates Dali’s craft but despises his persona (we agree), and she is taken away by Rothko (we disagree).
The Joy of Art: Susi writes, “At Cooper I did not know that I contained this passion; and I was kind of surprised at the intensity with which it controlled so much of my life…Generally speaking, I don’t talk about what I do, but do it. I have worked pretty much every day I could for the last forty years. I will never be as famous as Franz Kline or Pollock, but fame and fortune are not something you can really look for. Working in my studio is what I like doing best, it is as simple as that.”
Susi’s art has been displayed at some of the best galleries in Switzerland, her home for over forty years, along with being displayed in museums and prestigious collections, and this gave her many delightful contacts. The fact she is an American woman and made inroads in Switzerland, where woodcutting is dominated my men, has also been no small feat. She added, “I have not ever, nor will I ever, make anything just because I think it will sell. Nor do I speculate on other people’s work.”