Ruth Asawa (1926–2013)

SAN FRANCISCO (August 7, 2013) —The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are saddened by the loss of Ruth Aiko Asawa, who died on August 6, 2013, at the age of 87. Asawa was a groundbreaking modernist sculptor with whom the Museums enjoyed a long-standing relationship. An internationally exhibited artist, teacher, arts advocate, and Museum trustee, she leaves a remarkable legacy.

Untitled (Ruth Asawa holding a looped wire sculpture), 1952

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883–1976). Untitled (Ruth Asawa holding a looped wire sculpture), 1952. Sepia toned gelatin silver print. Gift of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier. 2006.114.1

During her tenure as a trustee of the Fine Arts Museums (1989–1997), Asawa made lasting contributions to the evolution of the new de Young. She advised Herzog & de Meuron on the design of the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Education Tower, and provided hours of public testimony in support of the building’s innovative architecture. She also initiated a children’s campaign in support of the Museums’ school art programs and was instrumental in the relocation of the Gottardo Piazzoni murals from San Francisco’s old main library to the new de Young.

In anticipation of the new de Young, Ms. Asawa was invited by the Museums’ director at the time, Harry S. Parker III, to create a permanent installation for the base of the tower. She selected and gave fifteen of her most significant sculptures (including several of her internationally acclaimed wire sculptures from the 1950s and 1960s), which have been prominently displayed since the building opened, in 2005.

In 2006 the de Young mounted The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air—the most significant retrospective devoted to the artist. The exhibition featured her earliest drawings and paintings created at Black Mountain College, the experimental art school in North Carolina, as well as her signature wire sculptures. Photographs of Asawa taken by her close friend Imogen Cunningham were included in the exhibition, and several were donated to the Fine Arts Museums by Asawa in her name and that of her late husband, architect Albert Lanier.

Untitled (Ruth Asawa kneeling behind looped-wire sculpture), ca. 1957

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883–1976). Untitled (Ruth Asawa kneeling behind looped-wire sculpture), ca. 1957. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier. 2006.114.7

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of Ruth Asawa, which is a personal loss both to me and to the arts and education communities of San Francisco,” said Board President, Diane B. Wilsey. “Not only was she a loyal trustee, dedicated to the successful completion of the new de Young Museum, but she was also truly the heart of our board and a source of great personal encouragement during those challenging and exciting years.”

Today the Fine Arts Museums preserve more than 150 of Asawa’s works for future generations of scholars and museum visitors. Asawa was a beloved member of the Museums and the greater San Francisco Bay Area community. She will be dearly missed.

A memorial celebrating the life of Ruth Asawa will be held at 11 am August 27, 2013 at the Music Concourse Band Shell in Golden Gate Park. For more information, please click here.