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Amy Tobin

It is tempting to think of Eva Hesse (1936–70) and Hannah Wilke (1940–93) as artists of different generations. The older a post-Minimalist artist of the 1960s, one of very few women artists to achieve success in the New York art world of the time; the younger a feminist artist, part of the moment of women’s liberation that Hesse missed, who contended with the exclusion of women artists and made sexuality and sensuality the subject of her work. And yet, there are only four years and a few months between them. Not artists of different generations then, but artists on parallel tracks that ran in proximity in the 1960s, but never swerved to cross. The paradigm shifts of art history—in this instance, too concerned with being in the same place at the same time—have obscured the relations between Hesse and Wilke. Or rather between their two bodies of work, both of which move between painting and sculpture, as well as playing with the serial, language, and the performative, and which stage the erotic. There are points of shared biography too: both came from Jewish families, both lived and worked primarily in New York, both had close and complex family relationships, and they had a number of mutual friends. This chronology traces the two artists’ distinct careers, troubling teleology to explore some of their shared concerns.

[TOP BANNER, LEFT] Photo of Eva Hesse in her studio, 1968, by Fred W. McDarrah / Getty Images. [TOP BANNER, RIGHT] Photo of Hannah Wilke in her Broome Street studio, 1973. Image courtesy Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles.
[BOTTOM BANNER, LEFT] Hannah Wilke at her 1975 exhibition at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York. Courtesy Donald and Helen Goddard and Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York. [BOTTOM BANNER, RIGHT] Photograph of Eva Hesse, c. 1969. Gelatin silver print.
Overall: 7 5/16 × 5 1/8 inches (18.6 × 13 cm). Allen Memorial Art Museum; Gift of Helen Hesse Charash (1977.52.72.9).