Methodically woven by hand, Ruth Asawa's hanging sculpture exists as a majestic drawing in space, at once delicate and awe inspiring. At 137 inches in length, Untitled (S.108 Hanging, Six-Lobed, Multi-Layered Continuous Form within a Form) is among Asawa's largest form within a form looped wire sculptures; its lyrical, undulating silhouette demonstrates the artist's nuanced understanding of forms in space; it was created with a visual sensitivity honed from the artist's cultural background and her education at Black Mountain College, where she was exposed to the pre-eminent modern artists of American art history.
Growing up Japanese-American on a Southern California farm, the artist was acutely aware of the cultural divide, as her immigrant parents were denied citizenship and barred from owning land. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, government officials seized her entire family, holding them first in a racetrack arena where they lived in two horse stables, and later in an Arkansas internment camp where they lived in tarpaper barracks. In 1943, at age 17, the young Asawa was granted leave to attend college, only to find three years later, that she couldn't become a teacher due to war-time discrimination.
In the summer of 1946, she began her studies at Black Mountain College. She recalled, "It was that summer that helped me decide to take charge of my own life." (R. Asawa, quoted in D. Cornell et al. The Sculptures of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, 2006, p. 13). Asawa studied alongside Robert Rauschenberg and longtime friend Ray Johnson under the tutelage of Josef Albers, Anni Albers, Buckminster Fuller and Merce Cunningham.
Asawa began experimenting with wire after a transformative visit to Mexico in the summer of 1947. Captivated by the crocheted baskets of galvanized wire used for eggs and other produce, she began exploring the medium in her own art. While her tactile, interwoven surfaces derive from her studies in design, the structural form is rooted in her childhood. When she was growing up in Southern California, she drew undulating patterns into the ground that bring to mind the contours of her mature looped wire sculptures. The artist remembered, "We had a leveler. It was pulled by four horses....I used to sit on the back of the leveler with my bare feet drawing forms in the sand, which later in life became the sculptural forms that make up the bulk of my sculptures." (R. Asawa, quoted ibid., p. 13.). Asawa's looped wire sculptures not only preserve the visual vocabulary of her childhood, but her sensitivity to the poetic forms of the everyday.
Executed in the late 1960s, Untitled (S.108) demonstrates Josef Albers' profound influence on Asawa in its transparency of form and structural clarity that recall the modernist principles as espoused by the Bauhaus. Instead of blocking and confining space, Asawa created interlocking patterns by using lines to distill form, yet preserve its sense of lightness and see-through clarity. These looped wire sculptures, with their multi-layered exterior and interior forms, seem to draw on Albers' iconic series, Homage to the Square, which likewise depicts forms nestled within similar graduated forms.
In 1970, Untitled (S.108) traveled to Osaka, Japan to represent American sculpture at the World's Fair. It was among the few sculptures chosen for the exhibition. In that first exhibit of her work in Japan, after being a victim of discrimination by her fellow Americans, Asawa achieved a kind of poetic irony that is captured in the sculpture -- dual attributes of sensitivity and strength. From the Ruth Asawa Family Collection, Untitled (S.108) is a memento of significant recognition by her country, and it has remained in her San Francisco home since the 1970s, as if to memorialize the cross-cultural divide Asawa endured and overcame.