Ruth Asawa Through Line is the first exhibition to examine Ruth Asawa’s oeuvre through the lens of her lifelong drawing practice. Co-organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Menil Collection, this presentation reveals the complexity and richness of the materials and processes she experimented with, emphasizing the foundational role that drawing played in developing her distinct visual language. While now widely recognized as a sculptor, Asawa (1926–2013) practiced drawing daily, referring to the act as her “greatest pleasure and the most difficult.”
For her, drawing played a foundational role as she experimented with diverse materials and processes to develop a distinct visual language. Through drawing, Asawa explored the world around her and the boundaries of the medium itself, turning everyday encounters into moments of profound beauty, endowing ordinary objects with new aesthetic possibilities. Drawing emerged as a cornerstone of Asawa’s artistic quest in San Francisco, and later became a key component of her role as an arts educator and community leader in the Bay Area.
Positioning drawings, collages, and watercolors alongside stamped prints, copper foil works, and sketchbooks, the exhibition will expose the breadth of Asawa’s innovative practice through over one hundred works from public and private collections, many of which have not been previously exhibited. Organized thematically, the presentation will begin with foundational lessons the artist absorbed and built upon at Black Mountain College in the late 1940s. Subsequent galleries will examine the function of repetition and the development of specific motifs and approaches—from the Greek meander to the paper fold—and how they recur throughout her work. The exhibition will show how drawing emerged as a cornerstone of Asawa’s practice in San Francisco, later becoming a key component of her role as an educator and community leader in the Bay Area. Surveying the artist’s impressive range and expansive approach, Ruth Asawa Through Line will offer an unparalleled window into Asawa’s exploratory and resourceful approach to materials, line, surface, and space.
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