Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954

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Lot 9
Ruth Asawa
(American, 1926-2013)
Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes)
circa 1953-1954

Sold for US$ 2,180,075 inc. premium
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION, NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013)
Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes)
circa 1953-1954

brass and unknown non-magnetic wire

50 by 9 3/4 by 9 3/4 in.
127 by 24.77 by 24.77 cm.

This work was executed circa 1953-1954.

Footnotes

  • This work is registered in the records of the Ruth Asawa Estate, California, under no. S.408.

    Provenance
    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1954


    I was interested in 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. — Ruth Asawa


    Ruth Asawa is one of her generation's most singular artists. Boldly inventive, Asawa's process of using ordinary material, exploring traditional methods of creation, and combining them with unexpected form and display, make her hanging wire sculptures some of the most iconic works of Post-War American art.

    Asawa was born in 1926 in Southern California. Experiences from her youth, including early study of Japanese calligraphy influenced her artistic vision and can be seen in the graceful lines of her sculptural works and ink drawings. One of seven children, Asawa grew up working on her family's farm in Norwalk, CA, during the Great Depression. This early contact with the organic shapes of natural flora played a key role in the development of the abstract forms for which she is so well-known. Linking farming and art later in life, the artist said, "sculpture is just like farming. If you keep at it, you can get quite a lot done." (the artist in Daniell Cornell Ed., The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Sam Francisco 2006.)

    Asawa and her family were sent to internment camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Asawa was not only a teenager, but also a born US citizen. After graduating high school in internment, she received a scholarship from a Quaker organization that enabled her to leave the camp and continue her education at Milwaukee State Teachers College. After completing college coursework, she pursued her interest in art by attending the legendary Black Mountain College from 1946-1949. While there, she studied with Josef Albers, Merce Cunningham and Buckminster Fuller, who became influential teachers and mentors. Her drawings at Black Mountain explored repetition and pattern, themes which would continue in her artistic practice across diverse media.

    A crucial moment in Asawa's education occurred during a summer break from Black Mountain. The artist traveled to Mexico, where she encountered wire baskets made by a local craftsman. She learned this technique and began creating extraordinary sculptures such as the present lot. The artist herself described the looped wire sculptures in her writing as "a woven mesh not unlike medieval mail. A continuous piece of wire, forms envelop inner forms, yet all forms are visible (transparent). The shadow will reveal an exact image of the object" (the artist quoted in https://ruthasawa.com/art/sculpture). Her seminal hanging sculptures include elegant forms and nested lobes, recalling the baskets that birthed her remarkable technique-- a literal elevation from earth-bound utilitarianism to suspended masterworks.

    The present lot was created circa 1953-54 and is a stunning example from this important period where Asawa was exploring different techniques to create overlapping layers. The wire glints a golden hue in the light while the layered and nested lobe forms gently and weightlessly float in midair. Featuring multiple lobes, some with additional interior lobes and some connected by chain, Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) is both a signature and unique example in the artist's oeuvre. The present sculpture brings together the many transcendent contradictions inherent in Asawa's most captivating works – it holds distinct form while being transparent, uses both light and shadow, and is marvellously complex while strikingly simple. Viewing this sculpture, one can see why Daniell Cornell, the curator of Asawa's 2006 retrospective at the de Young Museum in San Francisco remarked, "Ruth was ahead of her time in understanding how sculptures could function to define and interpret space. This aspect of her work anticipates much of the installation work that has come to dominate contemporary art." (Ashton Cooper, "Ruth Asawa's Late, Meteoric Rise from Obscurity," in BlouinArtinfo, November 26, 2013).

    The present work was acquired shortly after it was made by family friends of the artist. The sculpture hung in their Bay Area home since its acquisition in 1954, becoming a much-admired centerpiece. Suspended near windows, guests to the home (including the artist and her family over the years) had a clear view of the beautiful hanging sculpture and the natural world that inspired it. Until the occasion of Bonhams offering this exquisite work at auction, it has never before been shown publicly.

    Asawa's innovative work was recognized by major institutions early in her career and exhibited continuously since. Her wire sculptures were shown in 1954 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, at the 1955 São Paulo Art Biennial and in the Whitney Museum of American Art's Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Paintings, Sculpture, Watercolors and Drawing in 1955, 1956 and 1958. In 1960 the de Young Museum in San Francisco presented a solo exhibition of her sculptures and works on paper. Forty-five years later in 2005, the museum installed a permanent installation in a newly completed building by Herzog & de Meuron, showcasing the enduring legacy of the graceful and thoughtful diversity of her wire sculptures.

    Asawa's sculptures have firmly taken their place in the canon of art history. Her works are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville; Museum of Fine Arts Houston; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco - de Young Museum, among others. Asawa and her canon are also well-known beyond museums. The Google Doodle on May 1, 2019 pictured the artist working on her wire sculptures to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and the United States Postal Service is honoring her with a series of ten stamps featuring the wire sculptures to be released in the coming months. In addition to creating art, she passionately dedicated herself to supporting art education, particularly in public schools and, in recognition the public arts high school in San Francisco was named after her in 2010.
Contacts
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013) Untitled (S.408, Hanging Five-Lobed, Two-Part Form, with the Second and Third Lobes Attached by Chain and Interior Spheres in the First and Third Lobes) circa 1953-1954
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