‘S-105’ (Eva Hesse, 1968) and the matter of interpreting the “not quite artwork”

by thomasmagnahastings


Eva Hesse, S-105. Fibreglass, polyester resin, plastic. Courtesy University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Gift of Mrs Helen Charash, 1968.

This paper will risk interpreting a “not quite” artwork; that is, an artwork whose unclear status throws the work of interpretation into relief. Manufactured by Eva Hesse at her studio on the Bowery, S-105 (1968) is one of a series of “test pieces” that were posthumously consigned to the estate. In 2010, the test pieces were newly designated “Studiowork” by the art historian Briony Fer, who curated a successful travelling exhibition of the same name. Consequently, this “not quite” artwork found passage to the centre of what Robert Pincus-Witten termed the “industry of Eva Hesse [scholarship]”. S-105 is hemmed in by the conceptual act of naming and subject to readings of mimetic inscription: What if this thing is my model of thought? enquires Fer. Thinking with Fer about how S-105 speaks to us from beyond its muteness, I ask the following: What can we do with the excessive material lure that haunts the questions we ask of the “not quite” artwork? I want to trouble the critical transmission of affect, understood as an unavoidable interpretive recourse from a material thing whose lifeline is, patently, the institution of art history. To this end, I shall conduct a surface reading of S-105 as it is mediated via Yale University Press’ catalogue raisonné (2006). How does the formal intrusion of this medium and its value-form actually manipulate S-105? My reading is indebted to Eugenie Brinkema’s programme in The Forms of the Affects (2014). Finally, and in deference to the Late 60s’ positivist grounds of dematerialisation, my argument is informed by the critique of Gillian Rose: ‘Which concepts does the object have ‘by itself’? It has the reified concepts of non-dialectical sociologies and philosophies by means of which the non-reified concepts can be derived’ (1978).