Saturday, October 2, 2010

Iconography of Melancholia: Eva Hesse & Mark Manders @ UCLA Hammer Museum

Spectres 1960, an exhibition featuring works by the late Eva Hesse at UCLA's Hammer Museum, marks the first time a collection of the German Postminimalist sculptress' early, somewhat representational paintings have been presented as a recognized series. Hesse's best-known works, her "anti-form" assemblages pioneering the use of fiberglass, latex, and plastic, are markedly different in form and technique than those within Spectres, but this exhibition makes viewers aware of the evolution her body of work takes throughout her young life (she died at only 34). One thing that doesn't seem to change much as her media moves from 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional and from figurative to non-representational is a sense of sobriety and melancholy.

Hesse had many struggles beginning with her family's emigration from Nazi Germany when she was a young child, to the death of both her parents, to her failed marriage. While her later work reflects her internal struggles in more symbolic ways, we can see a physical manifestation of these emotions in the paintings of Spectres. The colors are somber: rusty red, icy grey, ocher, and black. In addition, the works are painted with a ferocity that deservedly draws comparisons to Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning whose aggressive works almost exclusively depicted women as the subject. Hesse, however, is creating images more self-reflective in this series. They are both haunting self-portraits and representations of person demons and reoccurring nightmares.

On display in conjunction with Eva Hesse's Spectres 1960 exhibition is Parallel Occurrences/Documented Assignments, a collection by the contemporary Dutch artist Mark Manders. While the two exhibitions share a somewhat restricted, melancholic palette and the artists themselves have ties as masters of assemblage, they aim to represent their makers' dreams and imaginations is very separate ways. Manders is clearly enamored of the Dada and Surrealist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. Like the Dadaists, Manders favors a sense of organic and innate organization of forms and imagery. His aesthetic is a product of his unfiltered subconscious with a tendency omit overt signs of his personal emotional state. Instead what he presents are odd, fascinatingly original works that at once appear both meaningless and decidedly referential of art history.

Though some of the objects within the mixed media sculptures of Parallel Occurrences were pre existing, Manders painstakingly created many. For example, the newspapers that frequent his works are made using the dictionary to create his own text within which not a single word is repeated. His use of found objects like chairs, tables, and books is balanced with his smooth, "unfired clay" figurative sculptures like Art Nouveau faces and alienesque dogs. As a result of this mix of forms, it becomes nearly impossible at times to differentiate between what is "real" and what is "fake."

Manders' offers his own commentary on each work via quotes on their title cards. His voice provides a welcome sense of humor as Manders' refuses to over intellectualize his art, instead offering less-than-cerebral, candid accounts of the reality of his processes and materials. Either the artist prefers to keep any personal meanings private and mysterious, or he wishes for his work to not be over analyzed or seem unapproachable. In the world of contemporary art, this is a road less traveled.

*images appear courtesy of and

No comments: