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David Zwirner opens an exhibition of work by artist Ruth Asawa at the gallery's London location
Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.590, Hanging Open Undulating Form), c. 1960 © The Estate of Ruth Asawa. Courtesy The Estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner.

LONDON.- David Zwirner is presenting an exhibition of work by American artist Ruth Asawa at the gallery’s London location. This is the first major presentation of her work outside the United States and includes 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.   

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 realised 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  

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 are 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 are 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. 

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