Acquavella Galleries is pleased to present Eva Hesse / Hannah Wilke: Erotic Abstraction, the first exhibition to present these two pioneering artists side by side. Curated by Eleanor Nairne of the Barbican Art Gallery in London, the show features 23 works made between 1965 and 1977, including foundational works in the history of post-Minimalist and feminist art.
Living in New York in the 1960s, Hesse and Wilke seemed at times to be working on parallel, if not entirely synchronized, tracks. Both turned to sculpture in the mid-1960s, and both became renowned for their experiments with form and materials, teaching sculpture at the School of Visual Arts at different times. Neither artist felt fully at ease with the language of Minimalism, which was ascendant in the New York art scene. As Nairne writes, “Hesse and Wilke shared in the desire to adopt and subvert the strict geometries of Minimalism; softening the language of cool detachment with a sense of physical touch.” Bringing a bodily sensibility to the rigid and sterile structures of Minimalism, each artist in her own way created work that was evocative, organic and sensual.
Central to this pursuit for both artists was the embrace of materials not widely used in sculpture in the 1960s, such as fiberglass and liquid latex. Erotic Abstraction features groundbreaking works from each artist in this highly expressive medium, as well as hybrid relief paintings and experimental works on paper. Ringaround Arosie (1965), made the first year that Hesse became fully engaged in sculpture, features a pair of mounds coming to a point at the center, each made of a spiral of electrical wire. Wilke’s Ponder-r-rosa 1 (1974) is the earliest work still extant by the artist made of liquid latex, a then newly-available industrial material whose use Hesse had pioneered a few years earlier. Presenting blooms made of folded circles of the soft black material bound together by metal fasteners, Ponder-r-rosa 1 shares not only innovative construction techniques with Ringaround Arosie, but also playful titles hinting at the works’ corporeal forms.
The exhibition includes important loans from The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Williams College Museum of Art, The Hannah Wilke Collection and Archive, Los Angeles, as well as many private collections.
A fully illustrated hardcover catalogue accompanies the exhibition featuring critical essays by curator Eleanor Nairne, professor and author Jo Applin, art historian Anne M. Wagner, art historian and curator Amy Tobin, and gallery director Michael Findlay.
Eleanor Nairne joined the Barbican Art Gallery in London as Curator in 2015. Her exhibitions include Imran Qureshi: Where the Shadows are so Deep (2016), Basquiat: Boom for Real (2017-18) and, most recently, the acclaimed retrospective Lee Krasner: Living Colour, which was shown in 2019 at the Barbican and the Shirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and is on view this year at the Zentrum Paul Kee, Bern, and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. She is currently working on Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty which opens at the Barbican this September.