Ruth Asawa

(1926 - 2013)

LAMA effectively tied the world auction record for any work by Ruth Asawa in the February 23, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction. The record was set with Untitled S.437, a complex hanging sculpture from 1956 (Lot 236), which realized $1,430,000.

About The Artist

Born to Japanese immigrants in Norwalk, California, Asawa was the middle child in a family of seven boys and girls–she learned the importance of hard work each day on her family's vegetable farm. On Saturdays, however, Asawa practiced Japanese calligraphy – a welcome respite from farm life–where she received her first lesson in empty space. In 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Asawa and her family were forcibly relocated to internment camps. Fortunately, she spent her time learning how to draw from Japanese artists from Disney Studios, including Tom Okamoto. She immersed herself in drawing and painting classes, and in 1943, after graduating from high school, she earned herself freedom and a government stipend to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. She was accepted, but the tuition and fees were too expensive, forcing her to enroll at the Milwaukee State Teachers College. After three successful years in Milwaukee, Asawa went on a trip to Mexico in the summer of 1945. There she met Clara Porset, a friend of Josef Albers, who recommended that she enroll at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. This chance meeting and the promise of a robust art scene ultimately changed the course of her life. 

One year later in Josef Albers's Basic Design and Color course, Asawa began to understand her abilities: "She sensed that she was learning about herself, how her eyes worked, and that she was increasing her general consciousness." Black Mountain's supportive community and its faculty of practicing artists quickly awakened in her a desire to break from family tradition and to focus on the necessary skills required for a life creating art. Of the instructors she recalls, "They were the most competent people I have ever known. They performed with distinction." In 1948, during her final year at Black Mountain, Asawa was encouraged to experiment, so she chose sculpture, an unfamiliar medium for the young artist. Inspired by a crochet loop basket weaving technique she had learned on a second trip to Mexico, she proposed to create a sculpture out of wire, whatever type of wire she could find in the studio: brass, copper, bailing wire. Asawa's "e" loop technique was not only simple and inexpensive, but offered a multitude of possibilities. Asawa referred to the resulting sculptures as "drawing[s] in space," punctuated by an overall nature of "transparency." She said, "It was Albers' word. I liked the idea, and it turns out my sculpture is like that. You can show inside and outside, and inside and outside are connected. Everything is connected, continuous."


Cornell, Daniell. The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Berkeley: University of California Press, c. 2006. Print.
Nordland, Gerald. "Introduction. Ruth Asawa: A Retrospective View. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art, 1973. Print.