Sculpture | Ruth Asawa: Line as Form

Ruth Asawa: Objects & Apparitions
Christie’s Private Sales
Rockefeller Center
New York City, USA
Exhibition 6th -31st May, 2013

Associated with the formulation of modernism, the concept of line as form is an ineffable paradox that was first explored at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and early 30s. Unlikely then, in 1947, for high-school graduate Ruth Asawa, to stumble upon a language that expressed the complex notion in the looped-wire baskets used for selling eggs in Mexico’s markets. But the promising and curious student, born in 1926 of Japanese immigrant parents, who had grown up during The Great Depression and began studying drawing and painting with professional Japanese artists in the internment camps, where she and her family were confined during World War II, had already travelled to Mexico two years earlier to study Spanish and Mexican Art, and by the time her return visit came around had come under the influence of former Bauhaus master Josef Albers and architect Buckminster Fuller, both teachers at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she had enrolled. ‘The artist must discover the uniqueness and integrity of the material’, Albers had explained, and intrigued with the idea of experimenting with wire as a medium, Asawa began to loop and twist it in a similar fashion to the Mexican basket makers, producing 3D forms – essentially, drawings in space – made from a single continuous wire. ‘I was interested in wire sculpture because of the economy of a line,’ Asawa said, ‘making something in space, enclosing it without blocking it out. It’s still transparent.’ Many of these sculptures were designed to be hung from the ceiling, and later Asawa hit upon the idea of creating transparent forms within the transparent forms, increasing the complexity and playfulness of her creations.

It wasn’t until 1953 that Asawa began exhibiting her work – in the meantime having been married and given birth to two of the six children she would have by 1959 – in solo and group shows at the San Francisco Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of Modern Art and at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. By this time she had met and formed a life-long friendship with legendary photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883 -1976). Cunningham, famed for her images of flowers, nudes and industrial landscapes, sensitively captured the sublime lightness and fluidity of Asawa’s work in still life compositions. She produced many pictures of the artist working, as well portraits in which Asawa becomes an element inextricably enmeshed with the sculptural forms of her creations.

In the 1960s, Asawa received major commissions to make public art and in 1970, her work was exhibited in the American Pavilion at the Osaka World’s Fair. So well-established as an artist was she by the early 70s that her sculpture and paintings began being shown in a string of retrospectives at important US venues – San Francisco Museum of Art (1973), Fresno Art Center (1978 and 2001). Asawa is reprented by the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco. Virtually unknown in Europe, in New York, her work can be found in major collections including that of the Solomon R Guggenheim and Whitney Museum of American Art; Objects & Apparations is her first major solo show in the city in over 50 years. Forty-eight works, including sculpture and works on paper – for sale or for private loan – will be presented in a show that takes place in the elevated setting of the 20th floor of 1230 Avenue of the Americas, at Rockefeller Center. Christie’s will offer the sculpture Untitled, above, from the Ruth Asawa Family Collection at their May 15th Post-War and Contemporary Art evening sale.

Imogen Cunningham photographs from top
Ruth Asawa, Sculptor, 1956
(Ruth Holding a Form-Within-Form, 1952)

Untitled
Hanging, six-lobed, multi-layered continuous form within a form
Estimate $250-350,000 (£160-225,000)

Ruth Asawa 2, 1957

All photos: archive pictures ©Imogen Cunningham
Courtesy Christie’s New York

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