Known for her extensive body of intricate and dynamic wire sculptures, American sculptor, educator, and arts activist Ruth Asawa challenged conventional notions of material and form through her emphasis on lightness and transparency.
Asawa began her now iconic looped-wire works in the late 1940s while still a student at Black Mountain College. Their unique structure was inspired by a 1947 trip to Mexico, during which local craftsmen taught her how to create baskets out of wire. While seemingly unrelated to the lessons of color and composition taught in Josef Albers’s legendary Basic Design course, these works, as she explained, are firmly grounded in his teachings in their use of unexpected materials and their elision of figure and ground.
Presenting an important and timely overview of the artist’s work, this monograph brings together a broad selection of her sculptures, works on paper, and more. Together the body of work demonstrates the centrality of Asawa’s innovative practice to the art-historical legacy of the twentieth century. In addition to an incredible group of photographs of the artist and her work by Imogen Cunningham, a selection of rare archival materials will illustrate a chronology of the artist’s life and work. Featuring an extensive text by Tiffany Bell which explores the artist’s influences, history, and, most importantly, the work itself, as well as a significant essay by Robert Storr discussing Asawa’s work in relation to mid-twentieth century art history, culture, and scientific theory.
Born in rural California, American artist, educator, and arts activist Ruth Asawa (1926–2013) was first exposed to professional artists while her family and other Japanese Americans were detained at Santa Anita, California, in 1942. Following her release from an internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, eighteen months later, she enrolled in 1943 in Milwaukee State Teachers College. Unable to receive her degree due to continued hostility against Japanese Americans, Asawa left Milwaukee in 1946 to study at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, then known for its progressive pedagogical methods and avant-garde aesthetic environment. Asawa’s time at Black Mountain proved formative in her development as an artist, and she was particularly influenced by her teachers Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller, and the mathematician Max Dehn. She also met architectural student Albert Lanier, whom she would marry in 1949 and with whom she would raise a large family and build a career in San Francisco. Asawa continued to produce art steadily over the course of more than a half century, creating a cohesive body of sculptures and works on paper that, in their innovative use of material and form, deftly synthesizes a wide range of aesthetic preoccupations at the heart of twentieth-century abstraction.
"This exquisite book is appropriate to its subject and an excellent introduction to an artist only belatedly becoming known to a larger art world."
– Andrea Kirsh, Artblog
[Asawa's sculptures] "have an aura of casual prowess."
– Sebastian Smee, The Washington Post
"The addition of Asawa to art’s overwhelmingly white-male hit parade comes at a critical time in our country, as the policies of the current Administration challenge the undeniable fact that the United States is a nation of immigrants."
– Andrea K. Scott, The New Yorker
“[Asawa’s] embrace of transparency’s ambiguities, no matter how subtle they might be, allows for no easy identification or quick categorization. It just requires close attention.”
– Anne Reynolds, Frieze
Ruth Asawa is “an opportunity to reassess both the expansiveness and consistency of her vision.”
– Zach Hatfield, The New York Review of Books
“A bewitching installation of her abstract sculptures… she re-invents wire as a vehicle for release and liberation.”