Executed in 1966, Untitled (Bochner Compart) is an iconic sculpture by Eva Hesse. Created in the year of her landmark exhibition Eccentric Abstraction curated by Lucy Lippard at the Fischbach Gallery, New York, it marks a critical turning point in the young artist's career. Characteristically tactile with its mound of tightly coiled ash grey cord peaked at the centre, the work takes on a sensual form reminiscent of a woman's breast. Systematic and compulsive, the work recalls aspects of the Minimal Art that was so prevalent in New York at the time. As she herself once averred, "I feel very close to Carl Andre I feel let's say, emotionally connected to his work. It does something to my insides" (E. Hesse interview with C. Nemser, Artforum, May 1970, p. 59). In Untitled (Bochner Compart), Hesse carries out her own unique interpretation of the Minimal aesthetic, manipulating her materials in a radical way in order to leave her own distinctive imprint. Along with contemporaries such as Bruce Nauman, Richard Tuttle, and Richard Serra, Hesse was proactively imbuing personal expression and personality into her art, acting against the predilection for reductive and impersonal objects.
Untitled (Bochner Compart) recalls a number of Hesse's early sculptural works including the vibrant relief, Ringaround Arosie,1965, currently held in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the title itself alluding to her friend Rosalyn Goldman, who was pregnant at the time. In a correspondence between Hesse and her close friend Sol LeWitt, she described the work as looking like a "like a breast and penis," although situated together the two round circles appear more like a female figure. In Untitled (Bochner Compart), Hesse also recalls someone significant in her life, this time the artist Mel Bochner. Bochner had recently undertaken a "portrait" of Hesse based upon her works shown in the Eccentric Abstraction exhibition. In Wrap: Portrait of Eva Hesse,1966, Bochner elaborates in pen and ink on graph paper a series of words exploring Hesse's own artistic strategies: "wrap-up, secrete, cloak, bury, obscure, varnish, ensconce, disguise, conceal, camouflage, confine, limit, entomb, ensack, bag, hide, circumcincture, skin, crust, encirclement, cincture, ringed, hedge-in, shell, hull, cover-up, facing, blanket, casing, veneer, shell, cinch, tie-up, bind, interlock, shell, mummify, coat, strap, lace, wire, cable, chain, spice, gird, bandage, envelope, shroud, surround" (M. Bochner quoted in E. Sussman (ed.), Eva Hesse, exh. cat, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, 2002, p. 25). In a nod to Richard Serra's verb list describing the nature of process, Bochner's collection of words, tightly spiraled around a centre point, both describe visually and conceptually an analogue for the artist's Compart series, and in particular the present work whose title draws an explicit connection.
For Hesse, her sculptural practice was also a means of personal catharsis, dealing with her own emotional struggles through material and form. Born in Hamburg in 1936, Hesse was a German-Jew and narrowly escaped the concentration camps, fleeing with her sister to Amsterdam in 1939. After a number of months in a local orphanage, the girls' parents were able to reclaim them, having escaped Nazi Germany themselves. The family subsequently moved to New York but shortly after the parents divorced, and in 1946 Hesse's mother tragically committed suicide. This traumatic history left an indelible imprint on the artist and became the subject underlying much of her emotionally resonant art. In 1961 Hesse met and married sculptor Tom Doyle, moving with him to West Germany in 1964 at the behest of German industrialist Friedrich Arnhard Scheidt. The pair ended up staying near Düsseldorf for fourteen months working in a studio together. During this time Hesse became riddled with her own self-doubt, as she confided in a diary that year: "I cannot be so many things Woman, beautiful, artist, wife, housekeeper, cook, saleslady, all these things, I cannot even be myself" (E. Hesse quoted in L. Lippard, Eva Hesse, New York, 1976, pp. 24-25). Shortly after, the couple separated, and in 1966 the artist's father passed away, leaving Hesse feeling abandoned and panic-stricken. All of this latent anxiety is channeled into her work of the time and particularly into Untitled (Bochner Compart) with its allusion to the female form, wound tightly and restricted within its claustrophobic square grid.