As a digital component to Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, the Blanton has created an exhibition-specific tumblr that will feature many of the postcards LeWitt sent to Hesse and insight from the exhibition’s curator, Veronica Roberts, and others. To introduce the project, Veronica discusses the witty and poignant correspondence between these two artists.
Anyone who was lucky enough to call LeWitt a friend knows that he was a first-rate correspondent. I remember writing him in 2003 to congratulate him on the thirty-five year anniversary of his first wall drawing (done at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York in October of 1968.) He sent me a postcard in reply, drolly commenting, “thirty-five years is a long time to do anything.” He went on to ask how grad school was going and how my grandparents were doing. I was touched that he remembered how close I was—and remain—with my grandparents.
Just as LeWitt’s wall drawings have been keeping art students around the world busy for nearly fifty years, the copious number of postcards and letters he wrote kept the United States Postal Service in business; (no wonder the post office is not doing so well these days.) Thirty-nine particularly special postcards that LeWitt wrote Hesse are reproduced in the exhibition and its catalogue. They are thoughtful, funny, and charming—classic Sol. And being the artist he was, he thought carefully about all of its ingredients: the image on the postcard, the message inside—even the stamp he used.
LeWitt’s dry sense of humor really come through in the postcards he dispatched Hesse from around the globe. He sent her an image of Moroccan sand dunes, lobster traps in Maine, and a roaring hippopotamus in the Netherlands. One of my personal favorites is a Smithsonian Museum postcard of an Egyptian mummy bull. (Well, according to the postcard, it’s a bull; it looks a more like a bunny to me.) Wrapped in bandages with just its eyes revealed, it looks like a cross between a rabbit possessed by the devil and an early Christo sculpture. On the back, he wrote a succinct, tongue-in-cheek message: “Dear Eva, I hope this doesn’t scare you.” I also love the way he opens a postcard to her, playfully informing her that this is the second postcard he has sent her from Germany, whereas “Dan Graham has only one.”
Sol’s affection for Eva and belief in her talent is very evident in the messages he wrote her. He repeatedly reports on seeing her work in exhibitions (“Went to Larry Aldrich Museum. Saw your piece. It really looks great,” or encourages her (“all sculptures are objects of one kind or another—Don’t fight it. Go! Go!”)
As a curator, I love reading the personal correspondence of artists but I know my attachment to them goes deeper than that. I know part of the reason I’m drawn to them is to see how clearly devoted Sol and Eva were to each other as friends, always making the time to remind each other of this in ways small and big. And I know I personally respond to them because I too have always enjoyed writing letters and receiving them.
People seem to appreciate receiving handwritten letters now more than ever, in part, I’m convinced, because we are drowning in the irritating efficiency of emails, which pile up like car wrecks. Unlike emails, which insist upon a response, letters are gifts with no expectations attached—a chance to say something kind without causing someone to blush or requiring anything in return.
At some point this summer as I was working on the catalogue for the show, I embarked on a postcard project of my own. I decided I would write my very beloved 91-year-old grandmother Eugenie, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, one postcard a day. Among the many things I inherited from her is a love of art and travel. Since she’s no longer traveling as much as she used to and I pretty much always have a suitcase packed, it seemed like a fitting way to take her with me wherever I go. A few weeks into sending her postcards—I think it was around the time I decided that I was going to send a series of images of the ocean (a nice Vija Celmins woodcut, a Milton Avery seascape) it dawned on me that the idea must have been inspired by Sol and Eva’s correspondence. Sol, my grandmother and I both thank you for what has turned into such a rewarding project. My grandma especially loves that I put Grandma above her address and that I never include her full name.
I highly recommend postcard writing. There are very few nice things you can do for a person for 34 cents! I stockpile my favorites at museums and relish finding silly ones that will make my grandmother laugh. It’s easy to tuck a sheet of stamps in your desk drawer or wallet (although it’s irritating that the post office just bumped the rate from 33 to 34 cents.) But I should warn anyone considering writing postcards as a daily act that this does have its perils. Many a sweet friends and strangers have found themselves unwitting collaborators in my quest. On a recent work trip, my boss, Simone Wicha kindly agreed to stop at various San Antonio gas stations in my futile pursuit of a postcard late in the day. And on a recent Saturday, as I fretted about losing my window of time to get a postcard out, my friend Lysa leapt out of my car when we spotted a mailman and successfully managed to get the postcard on its way. And a very nice woman at a newsstand at the Dublin airport offered to mail a postcard to my grandmother after I realized I had missed my chance to mail it before entering the security line.
My colleagues at the Blanton are equally smitten with Sol’s postcards to Eva. Upon seeing the works, Ray Williams, our Director of Education, came up with a brilliant idea. In the resource room of the exhibition, we are providing visitors with postcards that they can bring to the Blanton Museum Gift Shop. The shop will sell you a stamp and mail the postcard on your behalf. And soon they will be selling notecards featuring images of Sol’s postcards to Eva. Now we all just need to work on our handwriting….
All postcard images courtesy of Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio. Eva Hesse Archive, Gift of Helen Hesse Charash. © The Eva Hesse Estate. Courtsey Hauser & Wirth © Estate of Sol LeWitt/ Artist Rights Society (ARS)