In the middle of Abstract Expressionism: Looking East from the Far West hangs this untitled work by Ruth Asawa. (The small show of her work at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York also made big waves.) Made of brass and copper wire, visitors are drawn to it like it was magnetized.


Asawa was born in Norwalk, California, and with her family was sent to internment camps during World War II. She studied art at Black Mountain College with the painter and designer Josef Albers, who taught her to streamline her creative process and discover the essence of even the most pedestrian of materials. It was a methodology that served her well when she returned to the Bay Area to develop the hanging wire constructions—like this one—for which she is best known. Her graceful, unbroken forms—transparent, undulating, and designed to cast shadows—constitute exquisitely staged environments that suggest ties to installation art and roots in the Bauhaus, while her focus on the immediate creative impulse aligns her with Abstract Expressionism. Her emphasis on the interplay between line and the interstices around it reflects her background, as a Nisei Japanese American, in the traditions of her ancestral culture and study of calligraphy.

In addition to her work as a sculptor, Asawa is renowned as the designer of numerous public fountains in San Francisco (where she was known as “the fountain lady” during her lifetime), as well as for her advocacy for arts education.

Read more about Asawa in this New Yorker write-up on her Zwirner show.

Ruth Asawa (American, 1926‒2013). Untitled (S.540, Hanging, Seven-Lobed, Interlocking Continuous Form within a Form), c. 1958. Brass and copper wire. The Shidler Family Collection. Artwork © Estate of Ruth Asawa.