Challenging traditional sculpture: Ruth Asawa and her lightweight wire artworks
Ruth Asawa is a Japanese American designer and sculptor using the wireframe technique and recognized for her timeless creations.
Born in 1926 in California, she is the daughter of Japanese immigrants. During her difficult childhood, Asawa was placed during World War II in several internment camps for Japanese Americans.
Thanks to three animators from Walt Disney Studios interned by her side, she learned to draw before thriving under the tutelage of artists like Buckminster Fuller.
During a trip to Mexico, she learns to weave wire baskets from locals selling eggs at the market. She then discovered a passion for creating intricate wire sculptures that she weaves entirely by hand, producing complex, enigmatic, and delicate shapes.
Her works' specificity is rhythmic forms hanging from the ceiling and challenging traditional sculptural ideas on mass and weight.
Ruth Asawa first came to prominence in the 1950s, while still a student, when the Whitney Biennale included her sculptures. She subsequently exhibited at the San Francisco Art Museum and the São Paulo Art Biennale.
She became a very recognized artist in San Francisco. She was called "the lady of the fountains" with her first work of representation: a fountain on Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco.
Much of her inspiration comes from her childhood, family life, and the obstacles she faced in the internment camps. Mother of six children, she never separated her art from her family life. Asawa made her sculptures at home while exercising her role as a mother.
Her designs have often been the subject of debate over aesthetics, feminism, and public art. Ruth Asawa reflects a committed artist's image and remains renowned as a forerunner of American minimalist and postminimalist sculptors.
Photo 1: Ruth Asawa and her wire work. Photo: Nat Farbman/Time & Life Pictures, The New York Times, Getty Images
Photo 2: Eleven interlaced asymmetrical hanging bubbles, 1958. Photo: David Zwirner
Photo 3: “Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work,” 2018–19. Photo: Alise O’Brien Photography, David Zwirner
Photo 4: Ruth Asawa forming a looped-wire sculpture in 1957. Photo: Imogen Cunningham. From “Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa,” by Marilyn Chase, published by Chronicle Books, 2020
Photo 5: Ruth Asawa, Untitled, 1968. Photo: Artnet
Photo 6: Ruth Asawa and her children at the Saturn Street house, San Francisco, 1957. Photo: Imogen Cunningham