One of the greatest artists to make a major impact in only roughly a decade of working on a professional level, New York visual artist Eva Hesse, the subject of filmmaker Marcie Begleiter’s rudimentary but remarkably comprehensive and compassionate documentary of the same name, is a name that even casual art buffs should know and respect.
A mainstay of the New York City arts scene in the 1960s – which was no small feat given the male dominated art culture of the time – German born Hesse dabbled in everything between minimalism and maximalism, and although she was best known for her stunning, often austere sculptures and installations, she was also a force to be reckoned with when it came to painting and drawing. Focused on her art as her one true passion in life, Hesse seemed like she could do anything.
Her life wasn’t an easy one, though. She was Jewish and only just barely escaped from Nazi Germany during her childhood. She struggled with depression, which was troubling since her mother committed suicide at a young age. She thought she had found love in fellow sculptor Tom Doyle (who to his credit does show up, but to his discredit goes light on himself and tries to mansplain a lot), but she watched in agony as her marriage crumbled around her. And if all that wasn’t enough for one lifetime, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour that would end up taking her life in 1970 at just 34 years of age.
Eva Hesse does right by its subject, even if Begleiter’s directorial approach and structure is virtually indistinguishable from most biopics about famous people. It helps that most viewers are likely unfamiliar with Hesse. Using modern interviews, archival footage, intimate examinations of how some of her finest works came to be, and a lot of Hesse’s own words and feelings from her diaries (read here by actress Selma Blair), a full and compelling picture emerges of a major talent that the world lost far too soon.
Is Eva Hesse screening worthy?
It doesn’t break any new ground in terms of filmmaking, but Hesse is such a fascinating and important figure that the film is well worth your time.
Eva Hesse screens at Jackman Hall at the AGO from Wednesday, March 1 to Friday March 3, 2017. Check their website for more details.