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(1926 – 2013), USA

Ruth Asawa Biography

Ruth Asawa was a Japanese-American artist known for her ethereal sculptures woven out of metal wire, often hanging vertically from the ceiling and evoking bubbles or birds' nests. Working with her hands, which went against the preference for prefabricated industrial materials of the 1950s and 60s, Asawa defied categorisation and presented an alternative vision for artmaking.

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Born in 1926 to Japanese immigrants in California, Asawa's early life was affected by discrimination and xenophobia in the U.S. As a teenager, she was forced to go into Japanese internment camps during World War II; as a young adult, she discovered that her dream of becoming an art teacher would be difficult to realise because of her ethnic background.

In 1946, Asawa enrolled in the legendary Black Mountain College, where she studied under such artists as the former Bauhaus academic Josef Albers. During the three years she studied there, Asawa produced mainly abstract drawings and paintings and the institution's experimental spirit would have a lasting influence on her practice.

It was Asawa's trip to Mexico in 1947, where she undertook lessons with local weavers, that inspired her iconic metal sculptures. Fascinated by the transparency of the wire baskets she learnt to create, the artist developed these into various forms, working with brass, copper, and iron wire, ranging from isolated spherical and triangular shapes to intricate cage-like forms that overlap or encase one another.

Asawa's experimentation with metal wire sculptures expanded to forms modelled after life. Her tree-like sculptures were made by twisting wires outward from the centre, while she soaked tied-wire pieces in sulfuric acid for prolonged periods to create electroplated sculptures that recall the shape of corals.

Asawa moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1949, where she lived and made resounding contributions to public art and art education until her death in 2013. Andrea, her first public commission, was installed in Ghirardelli Square in 1968, the same year that she co-founded the Alvarado Arts Workshop with her friend and architectural historian Sally Woodbridge. In 1982, the artist helped found a public alternative high school in San Francisco, which was renamed the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts in 2010.

After decades of obscurity, Asawa began to gain wider recognition with The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air (2006), a survey exhibition at de Young Museum, San Francisco. Renewed interest in her work has been followed by Ruth Asawa, a major solo exhibition by David Zwirner in New York (2017), which has represented her estate since, and Life's Work at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Missouri (2018). In 2020, the United States Postal Service (USPS) issued a set of stamps featuring Asawa's sculptures.

Biography by Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020

Ruth Asawa Featured Artworks

Pigeons and Cobblestones (TAM.1478) by Ruth Asawa contemporary artwork
Ruth AsawaPigeons and Cobblestones (TAM.1478), 1965Lithograph on paper
23 x 35 inches
David Zwirner Contact Gallery
Spring (TAM.1474) by Ruth Asawa contemporary artwork
Ruth AsawaSpring (TAM.1474), 1965Lithograph on paper
22 x 30 inches
David Zwirner Contact Gallery
Chrysanthemums (TAM.1477-III) by Ruth Asawa contemporary artwork
Ruth AsawaChrysanthemums (TAM.1477-III), 1965Lithograph on paper
21 x 22 inches
David Zwirner Contact Gallery

Ruth Asawa Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Pure Form at David Zwirner, 69th Street, New York
14 January–20 February 2021 Group Exhibition Pure Form David Zwirner69th Street, New York
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Miami NY at David Zwirner, 19th Street, New York
5–31 December 2020 Group Exhibition Miami NY David Zwirner19th Street, New York
Contemporary art exhibition, Ruth Asawa, A Line Can Go Anywhere at David Zwirner, London
10 January–22 February 2020 Ruth Asawa A Line Can Go Anywhere David ZwirnerLondon

Ruth Asawa Represented By

David Zwirner contemporary art gallery in 19th Street, New York, USA David Zwirner New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong

Ruth Asawa In Related Press

LIFE’S WORK RUTH ASAWA Related Press LIFE’S WORK RUTH ASAWA 1 February 2019, Paul Laster

Though celebrated in 1973 with a retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Ruth Asawa was under the art world's radar for many years outside of her native California, and especially San Francisco, where she lived. Asawa has seen growing international attention over the past decade.

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A Mega-Gallery Marks a Quarter Century Related Press A Mega-Gallery Marks a Quarter Century 3 February 2018, Hyperallergic

With five New York spaces, outposts in London and Hong Kong, 165 employees, more than a half-billion dollars in sales last year alone, and a Renzo Piano-designed flagship slated to open on 20th Street in 2020, it's no wonder that David Zwirner Gallery is routinely, and sometimes derisively, called a mega-gallery, and Zwirner himself a mega-dealer...

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Sculpting Space: Ruth Asawa at David Zwirner Related Press Sculpting Space: Ruth Asawa at David Zwirner 16 October 2017, BOMB magazine

Ruth Asawa's artistic career endured the regrettable fate shared by many twentieth-century women. The late Japanese American artist never enjoyed a solo exhibition at a New York institution, and for the most part she remained eclipsed by her predominantly white, male peers. The last few years, however, have signaled a noticeable recognition for...

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Ruth Asawa at David Zwirner, New York Related Press Ruth Asawa at David Zwirner, New York 11 October 2017, Art Agenda

One of the three gallery spaces at David Zwirner's Ruth Asawa exhibition contains a display case featuring archival photographs taken by Imogen Cunningham of the artist in her studio and with her family; an earlier photo of Asawa in class with Josef Albers at Black Mountain College; a letter Asawa wrote to her future husband, architect Albert...

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