Two WSU sculptures falling apart

PULLMAN – Two significant holdings at the Washington State University Museum of Art are deteriorating so badly that they cannot be properly displayed and may be lost altogether, officials say.

The continuing ravages of time eventually will ruin both latex sculptures, “Stratum” and “Sans I” by the German-born American artist Eva Hesse, unless about $90,000 is raised to pay for conservation at an institution such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, museum Director Christopher Bruce said.

At risk are two important works by a key feminist sculptor from the tumultuous 1960s which, in their original condition, would be worth about $1 million, Bruce told the Lewiston Tribune newspaper on Tuesday.

They were donated to the museum by Anne Gerber of Seattle in 1977, seven years after Hesse died of brain cancer at age 34.

They were intended to be hung for display, just off the surface of a wall, but can only be shown horizontally because of oxidation in the grommets, Bruce said.

“She was interested in exploring the space off the wall,” Bruce said.

“Stratum,” a sheet of painted latex with dozens of tiny knots arranged in a quilt-like pattern, is part of the exhibit “Art &Context: the ’50s and ’60s,” on display through December. “Sans I” is in such poor shape that it is being stored in the museum’s vault.

Conservation would include lining each piece, patching cracks and tears, reattaching separated parts, reinforcing grommets and adding new mounts for easier handling and display.

Bruce said Hesse came of age during a transitional period in art and helped bridge the gap between painting and sculpture at a time when artists were exploring the use of new materials which they often left in a natural, unaltered state.

“It was the idea of truth in materials,” he said. “The materials stood for themselves. It employed the bare bones of what a work of art is, or what a work of art isn’t.

“Critics of the day loved this work because it acknowledged the surface appearance of the canvas. It was pretty much ‘what you see is what you get.’”

Bruce said Hesse also was a link between pop art and impressionism, inspiring a generation of women artists to free themselves from male domination in their work.

Some in the art world question the legitimacy of conservation of the type being proposed for the two Hesse pieces, but there should be no issue as long as we don’t present it as the original work of art,” Hesse said. “I think people should see it in all its faded glory.”

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