Hesse was drawn to unconventional materials like fiberglass, an industrial material that discolors and deteriorates over time. In a 1970 interview, she discussed the development of her choices: “I varied the materials even further . . . and then they just grew. They came from the floor, the ceiling, the walls, then it just became whatever it became.” Repetition Nineteen III was one of the first sculptures in which Hesse used fiberglass, a material that quickly became her favorite to work with. Like many artists of her generation, she explored repetition but, unlike her peers, she did not adhere to uniformity. None of these bucket-like forms are exactly alike, nor do they have a set order.
Gallery label from Collection: 1940s—1970s, 2019
Repetition Nineteen III comprises nineteen bucket-like forms, all the same shape but none exactly alike. The Minimalist artists, who emerged a little before Hesse did, had explored serial repetitions of identical units. Hesse loosened that compositional strategy: Repetition Nineteen III is simultaneously repetitive and irregular. She also tended to work on a humbler scale than the Minimalists often had, and her forms and materials are less technocratic; she herself called the soft, molded forms in Repetition Nineteen III “anthropomorphic” and recognized sexual connotations in these “empty containers.”
Made of translucent industrial fiberglass, one of Hesse’s favorite materials, Repetition Nineteen III is the third version she planned. (The ﬁrst was in papier-mâché; the second, which she imagined initially in metal, then in latex, was never completed.) Besides beautifully modulating the light, the ﬁberglass seems both soft and hard, contributing to the richly paradoxical character of these subtle objects: nonconformist individuals that somehow make a group. The arrangement, whatever it is, seems both random and coherent, uniﬁed by a similarity preserved through difference. Hesse expressed a sense of openness around the installation of the work. “I don’t ask that the piece be moved or changed,” she reflected, “only that it could be moved and changed. There is not one preferred format.”
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Repetition Nineteen III is composed of 19 translucent, bucket-like forms, each approximately 20 inches tall. Minimalist artists explored serial repetition of identical units, but Hesse loosened that principle. Her forms are handmade and irregular rather than manufactured and hard-edged. They are similar to one another in size and shape, but none of them are exactly alike. Repetition Nineteen III sits directly on the gallery floor. Hesse was flexible about the arrangement of the nineteen units that make up this work. She did not give specific instructions about how her work was to be arranged, so its overall shape varies with each installation.
Hesse used a wide range of materials to make her sculptural works. She was drawn to newly developed materials like fiberglass, which hadn’t been used for sculpture before Hesse began working with it. Aware of the instability of materials like fiberglass, which discolors and deteriorates over time, Hesse said, “Life doesn’t last; art doesn’t last. It doesn’t matter.”