ruth asawa: objects & apparitions

ruth asawa: objects & apparitions, a solo exhibition at christie’s in new york from 6-31 may 2013, features 34 sculptures and 14 works on paper by the san francisco artist, who is best known for her modernist wire sculptures.

ruth asawa:  objects & apparitions

solo exhibition of 48 works of art | on loan or available for private sale
christie’s | new york | 6-31 may 2013

photo credit christie’s

ruth asawa studied color, design, drawing, and painting with josef albers from 1946-1949 at black mountain college, a progressive liberal arts school in north carolina.  albers taught the fundamental courses at the bauhaus before emigrating from germany to the united states in 1933.  so, asawa’s experimentation with the interrelationship between material, process, form, and light, could be directly and indirectly attributed to bauhaus design principles and modernist aesthetics.

josef albers | homage to the square (A) | 1950

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | looped wire | circa 1950’s

photo credits (c) 2013 the josef and anni albers foundation/artist’s rights society (ARS) | new york and (c) the imogen cunningham trust, 2013

asawa originally wanted to become a painter.  at black mountain college, her paintings assimilated the aesthetic principles that albers taught in his color, design, drawing, and painting classes.  her black mountain paintings also interpreted the motifs that albers taught in his design class.

don’t the dancer motifs in asawa’s abstract paintings anticipate her ‘form within a form’ wire sculptures?

ruth asawa | dancers | oil on paper | 1946-1947

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | oxidized copper looped wire | 1996

photo credits christie’s and christie’s

in his design class, albers used the meander pattern, which could be mirrored, reversed, enlarged, condensed, or connected, to teach mathematical relationships and foreshortening.

don’t the textures of asawa’s looped wire sculptures recall these meander pattern studies?

imogen cunningham (1883-1976) | ruth asawa holding a ‘form within a form’ sculpture | photograph | 1952

ruth asawa | meander curved lines | ink on paper | 1948

photo credits (c) the imogen cunningham trust, 2013 and christie’s

like his classes at the bauhaus, albers’ classes at black mountain college also emphasized the experience of exploration. asawa began experimenting with wire as a sculptural material after spending the summer of 1947 as a volunteer art teacher in toluca, mexico, where she learned how to crochet wire baskets from the villagers, who used the baskets in the farmer’s market.  according to albers, every material has inherent qualities that can be accentuated through combination,
juxtaposition, or manipulation.  to asawa, drawing became sculpture through the crocheting process.  a two dimensional line could be manipulated into a three dimensional form.

‘its like drawing in space!’

-ruth asawa

ruth asawa | untitled | basket | brass looped wire | 1955

photo credit christie’s

she found both the linear and transparent qualities of the looped wire sculpture appealing.

‘[transparencey] it was albers’ word…

…my sculpture is like that.  

you can see through it.  

the piece does not hide anything.  

you can show inside and outside, 

and inside and outside are connected. 

everything is connected, continuous.’

-ruth asawa

the interior and exterior of asawa’s tied wire sculpture is also connected.  asawa began making tied wire sculpture in 1962, after friends brought back a desert plant from their vacation in death valley, CA for her to draw.  instead, she began experimenting with wire, which she bundled, divided, subdivided, and tied into trunks, branches, and roots.  the diameter of the core determined the number of divisions.

ruth asawa | desert flower | lithograph in colors | 1965

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | oxidized copper tied wire | 1962

photo credits christie’s and christie’s

if you live in san francisco, you may have visited the installation of ruth asawa’s tied wire and looped wire sculpture in the lobby of the hamon tower at the de young museum in golden gate park.  asawa donated 15 sculptures to the de young museum, and designed the installation along with the museum director and the curator.  she envisioned a juxtaposed installation, similar to the installation of sculptures in her home and studio.

living room of the asawa-lanier home | san francisco, CA | 1995

photo credit laurence cuneo

she also envisioned an installation that explored the relationship between light, shadow, transparency, and form.  the lighting design of the de young installation creates unexpected transformations that manipulate the form of asawa’s wire sculptures.  spotlights project highlights onto the sculptures, and shadows onto the walls, floor, and ceiling.  the highlights and shadows define, expand, and dematerialize the forms.

ruth asawa sculpture installation | lobby | hamon tower | de young museum | san francisco, CA

photo credit joseph mcdonald

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | copper and brass looped wire | 1960-1965 | 2005.90.8

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | copper and brass looped wire | 1960-1969 | 2005.90.7

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | copper and brass looped wire | 1960-1965 | 2005.90.6

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | monel (copper & nickel alloy) looped wire | 1959 | 2005.90.5

photo credits joseph mcdonald and lisa walsh | innerspace

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | brass looped wire | 1958 | 2005.90.15

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | copper looped wire | 1955-1959 | 2005.90.2

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | galvanized steel and copper looped wire | 1955-1959 | 2005.90.3

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | iron looped wire | 1950-1955 | 2005.90.1

photo credits joseph mcdonald and lisa walsh | innerspace

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | galvanized iron tied wire | 1963 | 2005.90.11

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | iron looped wire | 1955-1959 | 2005.90.4

ruth asawa | untitled | wall mounted sculpture | bronze tied wire | 1965-1969 | 1005.90.12

photo credits joseph mcdonald and lisa walsh | innerspace

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | galvanized steel tied wire | 1960-1965 | 2005.90.9

ruth asawa | untitled | hanging sculpture | copper looped wire | 1996 | 2005.90.14

photo credits  lisa walsh | innerspace and  joseph mcdonald

how do you define modernist aesthetics?

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