LAMA BLOG

Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Ruth Asawa Complex Hanging Sculpture

February 17, 2014

The February 23, 2014 Modern Art & Design Auction features one of the most impressive sculptures to ever come through the LAMA showroom. Ruth Asawa’s seven-lobed hanging sculpture, Untitled S.437 (1956) (Lot 236), is a beautiful example of the artist’s dedication to her craft and pioneering experiments in wire sculpture.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled S.437 (1956), Ruth Asawa

From Peter Loughery, Director of Modern Design & Fine Art:

“This incredible work is one of the largest Asawa sculptures to ever hit the auction block. Not only is this a custom, unique design, but it was born from a mutual bond between two sensitive artists. The friendship between June Lane Christensen and Ruth Asawa began at Black Mountain College in the late 40s, and continued on the West Coast as both women were developing their artistic pursuits – June her dance studio for children and Ruth her wire sculptures. Untitled S.437 became the centerpiece of Christensen’s studio, serving as her inspiration and muse. Over 50 years later, the process comes full circle, as the sale of this piece will help June’s family provide dance education to the Santa Barbara community.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

June Lane Christensen with daughter, Katherine, dancing around Untitled S.437, 1956, Santa Barbara

June Lane Christensen with Ruth Asawa Complex Hanging Sculpture, February 23, 2014

June Lane Christensen with Untitled S.437, February 3, 2014, LAMA Showroom

On November 13, 2008 the Montecito Tea Fire erupted, destroying homes and buildings in the foothills of Santa Barbara. June’s dance studio was one of those buildings burned by the fire. While the property was burning, and her current residence evacuated, the family had very little time to gather their belongings, but they made sure to save the Asawa sculpture.

With the proceeds from the sale of Untitled S.437, the family will rebuild the studio so that June’s grandchild can continue her work.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

The artist in her studio, California, Untitled S.437 is pictured far right. Photograph by Paul Hassel. © Ruth Asawa

Like her Black Mountain classmate, Ruth Asawa devoted her life to education. Beginning in the late 1960s, Asawa founded the Alvarado Arts Workshop, which allowed students to develop their creativity through art and gardening. Her philosophy spread throughout San Francisco, eventually culminating in the School of the Arts High School in the heart of the city’s cultural institutions. In 2010, it was renamed in honor of Asawa, the Ruth Asawa SF School of the Arts.

Continue reading the essay we published in the February 23, 2014 auction catalogue:

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Detail of Untitled S.437 (1956), Ruth Asawa

The renowned Japanese-American artist and educator Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) constructed intricate, multi-lobed wire sculptures that explore a complex relationship between object and space. Her diligence to her craft, her pioneering experiments in wire sculpture, and her comprehensive output in other mediums including public sculpture, painting, and printmaking have established Asawa as one of the most influential modernists of the 20th century.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Detail of Untitled S.437 (1956), Ruth Asawa

Born to Japanese immigrants in Norwalk, California, Asawa was the middle child in a family of seven boys and girls, and 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 she graduated, earning herself freedom from the camp 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.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Detail of Untitled S.437 (1956), Ruth Asawa

One year later in Josef Albers’ Basic Design and Color course, Asawa was beginning 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 a desire to break from her family’s tradition and to focus on the necessary skills required for a life of 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.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Untitled S.437 (1956), Ruth Asawa

In the early 1950s, Asawa found time to work on her wire sculptures amidst significant life events, including her marriage to architect Albert Lanier and the birth of her children. She submitted a sculpture to the San Francisco Art Association Annual at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), her first show outside of Black Mountain. Throughout the next five years, Asawa showed more regularly at local and national galleries and museums, culminating in a piece at the Bienal de São Paolo in Brazil. It was around this time in 1953-54 that June Lane Christensen commissioned Untitled S.437 (Hanging, Seven-Lobed, Two-Part Continuous Form within a Form with Two Small Spheres) for her dance studio in Santa Barbara. In early 1956, Ruth Asawa completed the hanging sculpture and personally installed the work in June’s studio, where June and her husband taught dance, music, and the arts to children. June studied dance in the late 40s and early 50s at Black Mountain College where she came to know Ruth Asawa. June then moved to New York to study with Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and Martha Graham, ultimately bringing modern dance into the awareness of the Santa Barbara dance community. The sculpture hung in the dance studio for nearly 20 years and has continued to serve as an inspiration and muse to June and her work since retiring three years ago at the age of 85.

On November 13, 2008 the Montecito Tea Fire erupted, destroying homes and buildings in the foothills of Santa Barbara. June’s dance studio was one of those buildings burned by the fire. While the property was burning, and her current residence evacuated, the family had very little time to gather their belongings, but they made sure to save the Asawa sculpture. Now after 57 years, the sculpture will save them. Proceeds from the sale of the sculpture will go to rebuilding the property and studio, continuing June’s legacy of teaching arts to children through dance, movement, and music.

Lot Information:

Lot 236
Ruth Asawa
Untitled S.437 (Hanging, Seven-Lobed, Two-Part Continuous Form within a Form with Two Small Spheres)
Custom commission, 1956
Looped brass and steel wires
Unique
Studio
Retains tag “S.437/50 ((c))”
103″ x 18.5″ largest diameter
LAMA would like to thank Aiko Cuneo for her assistance in cataloguing this work

Together with The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Airexhibition catalogue

Provenance: Private Collection, Santa Barbara, California (acquired directly from the artist)

Illustrated: Cornell, Daniell. The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air. Berkeley: University of California, 2006. p 129.

Estimate: $300,000 – $500,000

For more information, or details on how to bid, please contact a LAMA representative.

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