Pulitzer and Asawa Team Up for a Sublime Exhibit in St. Louis

Ruth Asawa: Life's Work

The Pulitzer Arts Foundation curators consistently seek art that exploits the Tadao Ando-designed building’s nonpareil exhibition spaces, particularly the long, tall main gallery, visually anchored at its eastern end by the foundation’s permanently installed Ellsworth Kelly wall sculpture, “Blue/Black.” In the work of Ruth Asawa, who made sculptures for some six decades, the Pulitzer has found its perfect collaborator. Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work is on view at the Pulitzer through Feb. 16, 2019. Asawa’s most recognizable pieces, hanging forms of looped, knitted wire, inhabit the Pulitzer’s spaces with the airy elegance of elongated sea creatures, at once material and transparent, profoundly beautiful by themselves, exhilarating in their dialogues with each other and the building.

 Life's Work at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation

Asawa (1926-2013), born in California to Japanese immigrants, learned the technique—derived from knitting—of turning wire into forms from craftsmen in Toluca, Mexico, in 1947 and used it to create increasingly complex sculptures, each from a single strand of wire. What often appears to be a number of separate forms within forms are actually single sculptures built of continuous and overlapping spheres. She also created interlocking forms, spheres nestled within lobes and flared openings in the enclosed surfaces that look like the result of small explosions.

Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S659, Hanging Single Section, Reversible Open Window Form) ca. 1959, brass wire, 37.5 x 25 x 25 inches, ©Estate of Ruth Asawa, couretesy the Estate of RTuth Asawa and David Zwirner. Photograph by D. Lancaster

Even as she moved on from the knitted forms in the 1960s, she continued to use wire as her primary medium, bundling lengths of it, then dividing and tying the strands into branching forms that resemble the structure of plants, branches, root systems and flower petals. She expanded her repertoire of techniques by submerging her tied-wire works in baths of sulphuric acid, a process she abandoned upon realizing how brittle it made the metal. She continued to explore new techniques with wire, dipping looped-wire forms in wax and casting them in bronze.

 Life's work at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation

Trained primarily as a painter (Milwaukee State Teachers College, Black Mountain College), Asawa worked throughout her career with paper, sometimes as a substrate for images, sometimes folding it into sculptural forms.

Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.529, Wall-Mounted Paperfold with Horizontal Stripes), 1970s, brushed black ink on paper, 13.75 x 26.5 x 1.5 inches, ©Estate of Ruth Asawa (photograph by D. Lancaster)

The exhibit includes some eighty sculptures, drawings, paintings, collages and prints spanning Asawa’s entire career.

Concurrently, the Pulitzer also features the work of pioneering photojournalist, Lola Álvarez Bravo (1903-1993) in nearly fifty photographs and photomontages spanning her five-decade career. In Lola Álvarez Bravo: Picturing Mexico, the Pulitzer sheds light on the underrecognized photographer, whose career was overshadowed by her more famous husband, Manuel Álvarez Bravo. The exhibit’s images document life in the years following the Mexican Revolution in prints that demonstrate the photographer’s meticulous attention to pattern, light and composition, and include portraits of the likes of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

 Picturing Mexico at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation (photograph by D. Lancaster)


David Lancaster
About the author

David Lancaster is an accomplished artist and photographer whose work has been shown in galleries in St. Louis, Chica...