Ruth Asawa: A Line Can Go Anywhere — at David Zwirner Gallery

Ruth Asawa
A Line Can Go Anywhere
David Zwirner Gallery
24 Grafton Street, London W1S 4EZ
10 January – 22 February, 2020

David Zwirner announces an exhibition of work by American artist Ruth Asawa at the gallery’s London location. This will be the first major presentation of her work outside the United States and will include a number of key forms spanning more than five decades of the artist’s career, focusing in particular on the relationship between Asawa’s wire sculptures and her wide-ranging body of works on paper.

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Ruth Asawa, ‘A Line Can Go Anywhere’, Installation view, David Zwirner Gallery
— Images © the gallery and the artist
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Untitled (S.595, Hanging Single Section, Reversible Open Windows Form), c. 1963, David Zwirner Gallery — Images © the gallery and the artist

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Ruth Asawa, ‘A Line Can Go Anywhere’, Installation view, David Zwirner Gallery
— Images © the gallery and the artist

An influential artist, devoted activist, and tireless advocate for arts education, Asawa is best known for her extensive body of hanging wire sculptures. These intricate, dynamic, and sinuous works, begun in the late 1940s, continue to challenge conventional notions of sculpture through their emphasis on lightness and transparency. Relentlessly experimental across a range of mediums, Asawa also produced numerous drawings and prints that, like her wire sculptures, are built on simple, repeated gestures that accumulate into complex compositions. Although she moved between abstract and figurative registers in her sculptures and drawings, respectively, viewed together, the works in this exhibition nevertheless incite a rich dialogue and find commonality in their sustained emphasis on the natural world and its forms, as well as in their deft use of the basic aesthetic concept of the line. As she noted, “I was interested in it because of the economy of a line, making something in space, enclosing it without blocking it out. It’s still transparent. I realized that if I was going to make these forms, which interlock and interweave, it can only be done with a line because a line can go anywhere.”1

Ruth Asawa and Her Wire Sculptures, 1951
Photo by Imogen Cunningham. © 2020 Imogen Cunningham Trust

The works on view include examples of Asawa’s well-known looped-wire sculptures, which she began while still a student at Black Mountain College. Their unique structure was inspired by Asawa’s 1947 trip to Mexico, during which a local craftsman taught her how to create baskets out of wire. Suspended within the gallery space both in clusters and individually, these works range from elaborate multi-lobed compositions to nested shapes made from a single continuous length of wire, miniature spheres, and open-window forms that require extreme technical dexterity to achieve.

Presented alongside these will be Asawa’s tied-wire sculptures, a body of work begun in 1962. After having been gifted a desert plant whose branches split exponentially as they grew, Asawa quickly became frustrated by her attempts to draw its structure. Instead, she utilised industrial wire as a means of sculpting its form and, in doing so, was able to create her signature abstractions.

Additional highlights include a rare work on paper inspired by Asawa’s time at Black Mountain in which she used the ‘BMC’ laundry stamp to create  intricate and undulating compositions that derive from a series of exercises assigned by Josef Albers in his Basic Design class. Rather than emphasising technique, Albers pushed his students to focus on—as he did in his own work—the articulation of form through colour by asking them to limit themselves to a small number of basic shapes and motifs. Likewise, Asawa’s spare but elegant drawings of plants and flowers, made over the course of her life, echo this idea.

Also featured will be a group of vintage photographs of Asawa and her work by noted photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883–1976), her close friend and ardent supporter for more than two decades.

1 Ruth Asawa, cited in Daniell Cornell, “The Art of Space: Ruth Asawa’s Sculptural Installations,” in Cornell, ed., The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air. Exh. cat. (San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2006), p. 138.
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via press release, David Zwirner Gallery, London
Featured Image: Photo by Imogen Cunningham. © 2020 Imogen Cunningham Trust
All images © the gallery and the artist(s)