Ruth Asawa

1926Norwalk, United States | 2013San Francisco, United States
Ruth Asawa — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Imogen Cunningham, Ruth Asawa, 1956, gelatin silver print, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), © Bridgeman Images

American sculptor.

Ruth Asawa moved to San Francisco after studying with Josef Albers (1888-1976) at Black Mountain College for three years. She was a leading sculptor in the United States from the 1950s, but it was only in the 2010s that she started to be recognized beyond the American West Coast. The highly original metal sculptures that she created over nearly sixty years, influenced by her close relationship with nature and inspired by egg baskets that she found at a Mexican market in 1947, did not initially find favour. Perhaps because of the material that she used, they were not considered to be sculpture and were classed purely as decorative art.
The Pulitzer Arts Foundation exhibition in St Louis in 2019 reconsidered the importance of her experiments, which created an abstract organic sculpture that repetitively combined various metals in increasingly complex structures, and used fullness and transparency, light and shade, interior and exterior, and even took in the space around the sculpture in a real continuity of forms. Some of the work that she did in the 1950s and 1960s, constructed of entirely hand-woven metal threads, was made up of overlapping shapes with the smallest inside the largest.

Resembling drawings in three-dimensional space, these sculptures are linked to R. Asawa’s daily drawing practice, a habit that she developed when, as the child of Japanese immigrants, she was interned in a camp during the Second World War. R. Asawa’s work is an integral part of her life interwoven with her physical, family, and social environment. She herself has talked about her work on the farm as a child, her relationship with plants and germination, as vital influences. Defining herself as an “artist, wife, and mother” and involving her six children in her work, she turned the home that she shared with her husband, the architect Albert Lanier, into a huge studio. Paradoxically, this unusual and all-encompassing approach meant that her work was viewed reductively in the 1950s. She was labelled a “housewife” artist who made decorative domestic sculptures, although she was fiercely promoted by her friend and former teacher Richard Buckminster Fuller. Expanding the continuum between her art and the shared space, R. Asawa started in 1968 to make sculptures for the public realm and became involved in art education. She co-founded the Alvarado School Arts Workshops programme in San Francisco in the same year. Her maxim was, “Doing is living. That is all that matters.”

Christine Macel

Translated from the French by Thames & Hudson Ltd.

As published in Women in Abstraction © 2021 Thames & Hudson Ltd, London

Ruth Asawa — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Ruth Asawa, Untitled,(Hanging Seven-Lobed, Continuous Interlocking Form, with Spheres within Two Lobes), c. 1953-54, enameled copper & brass wire, 198.1 x 38.1 x 38.1 cm, © Private Collection, © Photo: Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images

Ruth Asawa — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Untitled (S.530, Hanging, Two-Lobed, Continuous Form), 1952-1954, brass wire, 49.85 x 25.4 x 25.4 cm, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), © Bridgeman Images

Ruth Asawa — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Ruth Asawa, Desert Flower, 1965, lithograph, 44.3 x 44.4 cm, MOMA

Ruth Asawa — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.383, Wall-Mounted Tied Wire, Open-Center, Six-Pointed Star, with Six Branches), c. 1967, hanging sculpture, bronze wire, 46 x 46 x 6 in., 116.8 x 116.8 x 15.2 cm

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