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b. 1936, Hamburg; d. 1970, New York City
Eva Hesse was born January 11, 1936, in Hamburg. Her family fled the Nazis and arrived in New York in 1939. She became a United States citizen in 1945. When Hesse was ten years old, her mother committed suicide. Racked with anxiety throughout most of her life, Hesse nonetheless persevered in her single-minded pursuit of making art. She attended the School of Industrial Art, then Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1952, and Cooper Union from 1954 to 1957. After winning a scholarship to the Yale Norfolk Summer School of Music and Art, Norfolk, Connecticut, in 1957, she was accepted by the School of Art and Architecture at Yale University, New Haven, where she studied painting with Josef Albers. In 1959, Hesse received her B.F.A. from Yale and returned to New York, where she worked as a textile designer.
In 1961, Hesse was included in group exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and at the John Heller Gallery, New York. That year, she married the sculptor Tom Doyle. She made her first three-dimensional object—a costume made of chicken wire and soft jersey—for a Happening organized by Allan Kaprow, Walter De Maria, and others in 1962. Hesse had her first solo show, of drawings, the following year at the Allan Stone Gallery, New York. In 1964, she and Doyle spent over a year living in Kettwig-am-Ruhr, Germany, under the patronage of a German textile manufacturer and art collector. While in Europe, they traveled intermittently to Italy, France, and Switzerland. Hesse’s first solo show of sculpture was presented at the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf, in 1965.
She and Doyle returned to New York in 1965 and separated after several months. Hesse began to use latex to make sculpture in 1967, and then fiberglass the following year. She started to gain recognition by the late 1960s, with solo shows at the Fischbach Gallery, New York, and inclusion in many important group exhibitions. While Hesse’s work shows affinities with the concerns of Minimalism, it cannot be easily characterized under any particular art movement. From 1968 to 1970, Hesse taught at the School of Visual Arts, New York. In 1969, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and after three operations within a year, she died May 29, 1970.