The Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis presents Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work, a major exhibition featuring some sixty sculptural works from throughout the artist's career as well as twenty paintings, drawings, and collages, some of which date back to her time at Black Mountain College. This will also be the first major museum exhibition dedicated to Asawa outside California, where the artist was born and spent much of her life, having moved to San Francisco in 1949.
Curated by Tamara H. Schenkenberg, who led a tour of the exhibition on September 15, the show explores how Asawa developed her unique approach to technique and form, and, as Schenkenberg observes, "the deep intelligence, probing nature, and, yes, work ethic, that informed her art." Organized in a loose chronological order, the exhibition’s starting point is Asawa’s studies during the late 1940s at Black Mountain College, an experimental school in North Carolina that was renowned for its avant-garde aesthetic and progressive teaching methods espoused by Josef Albers, Buckminster Fuller, and Merce Cunningham, among others. As Asawa recalled in an interview in 2002, "Black Mountain gave you the right to do anything you wanted to do. And then you put a label on it afterwards." Amid this unique environment and following a 1947 trip to Mexico, where she learned to make baskets using a looped-wire technique, Asawa began experimenting with the wire forms that were to become her primary means of expression. The works included in this show demonstrate the breadth and diversity of her looped-wire sculptures, from small spheres to long, elaborate "form within a form" compositions, in which nested shapes unfold from a single continuous line of wire. The artist’s lesser-known forms that are on view include hyperbolic shapes, suspended cones, and interlocking spheres. Taking in these varied works, a review in The Washington Post asks, "Is this the most beautiful show of the year?"
Life’s Work also aims to give due attention to Asawa’s practice, which many argue has not been fully considered as part of the modernist canon. "Ruth Asawa was one of the most rigorous and inventive artists of her day," states Pulitzer director Cara Starke. "With this exhibition we hope to shed light on how she came to create sculptures that are, in essence, transparent, voluminous yet light, and unique among the work of her peers." A preview of the exhibition in Artforum notes that "our modernist sculptural legacy [includes] the great artist of floating worlds, Ruth Asawa . . . whose biomorphic and figurative forms . . . trade the material and metaphoric opacity of iron, bronze, and steel for translucent architectures and spatial mapping."
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue published by Yale University Press with essays by writer and critic Aruna D’Souza, curator Helen Molesworth, and Schenkenberg. The artist’s life and work is also the subject of an immersive new monograph published this year by David Zwirner Books.
Image: Ruth Asawa, c. 1956 (detail). Photo by Paul Hassel
Images: Installation view, Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, 2018. © Estate of Ruth Asawa. Courtesy The Estate of Ruth Asawa. Photo © Alise O'Brien Photography
Cover Image: Ruth Asawa holding a form-within-form sculpture, 1952 (detail). Photo by Imogen Cunningham. © Imogen Cunningham Trust