Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ruth Asawa at the De Young Museum

Lily deSaussure

San Francisco report

The De Young Museum held an exhibition of Ruth Asawa’s work providing an expansive breadth of her career. The well-known Bay Area artist is mostly recognized for her wire sculptures of undulating round organic shapes within round organic shapes that are suspended from the ceiling.

My first experience with Asawa’s work was with a group of these sculptures in the foyer of the San Jose Art Museum, which boasts its own impressive collection of work by California artists. I did not come to appreciate these sculptures as much as I do until viewing Asawa’s show at the De Young. The daylight flooded entryway of the San Jose Art Museum did the pieces little justice, as they appeared as black gestural suggestions of something more then what they were against a blinding white backdrop. Although I personally have an affinity for repetitive pattern and craft, I nevertheless looked briefly and passed on by, having not found anything to hold my interest longer.

At first, I though I found the “something more” at the De Young. The installation was superb on a formal level but also in the way it placed craft on a high pedestal. The galleries were practically dark apart from the carefully lit pieces – up close every bend, knot and color variation in the wire was accentuated. And from afar, the pieces were perfectly composed within the dark grayish rectilinear framework of the gallery architecture. The lighting and display elevated the craft to a high art status by bringing out every detail and intricacy of the work – the labor involved was revealed and spotlighted so that each levitating piece glowed with a heavenly ora. Such a scene evoked awe and did the pieces the most justice possible.

Although having felt the initial awe, I found myself getting restless and walking faster toward the end of the exhibition. Sure, I admired the work for its masterful craftsmanship – not to mention the fact that Ruth Asawa was a student and close friend of R. Buckminster Fuller, whose own work no doubt greatly influenced her’s. As mentioned, I was drawn to the repetitive patterns and shapes, woven together and resembling basketry – but I can only look at so many baskets (I can only look at so many of the same painting as well). If this work had been representative of a decade of Asawa’s career mid-way through that would have been fine… but she is an established, late in her career artist and I wonder why she hasn’t gone farther. Yes, the work is time consuming and requires tremendous dedication, which is in and of itself remarkable – plus she has made a great example of the use of craft in fine art. The work at the De Young still left me feeling very much the same – although slightly more enlightened – as it did in San Jose. I just wanted something more that was not there.

1 comment:

glennis said...

I just saw this exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in LA and was completely mesmerized! I did not get the same feeling you experienced of wanting it to be more. I could have looked at more pieces and plan to go back and see it again. I was taken by her lifelong study of line and contour, turning the outside in and then out again. She lived with her art and her family was part of that. Her involvement in art education for young children was inspirational. She has a childlike simplicity in regards to her work. I liked it alot!