Ruth Asawa Through Line

Mar 22 – Jul 21, 2024
Menil Drawing Institute

Ruth Asawa Through Line is the first exhibition to focus on the artist’s lifelong drawing practice. Widely recognized as a sculptor, Ruth Asawa (1926–2013) drew 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.

The exhibition presents drawings, collages, watercolors, and sketchbooks alongside stamped prints, paperfolds, and copper-foil works, showing the breadth of Asawa’s innovative practice. Many of the more than one hundred works from public and private collections have not been previously exhibited. Organized thematically, the presentation begins with foundational lessons that the artist absorbed and built upon at Black Mountain College in the late 1940s. Subsequent sections examine the function of repetition and the development of specific motifs and approaches—from the Greek meander to paper folded in structural patterns—and how they recur and change throughout her career. Surveying the artist’s impressive range and expansive approach, Ruth Asawa Through Line offers an unparalleled window into Asawa’s resourceful approach to drawing, with her particular attention to materials, line, surface, and space.

Ruth Asawa Through Line is co-organized by the Menil Collection and the Whitney Museum of American Art, in close collaboration with the estate of Ruth Asawa.

This presentation is accompanied by a copiously illustrated, scholarly catalogue co-published by the Menil Collection and the Whitney Museum of American Art, and distributed by Yale University Press. The book, with more than 200 illustrations, reproduces many previously unpublished works as well as archival materials.

Ruth Asawa Through Line is co-curated by Edouard Kopp, John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation Chief Curator, The Menil Drawing Institute and Kim Conaty, Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawings and Prints at the Whitney Museum of American Art, with Kirsten Marples, Curatorial Associate at the Menil Drawing Institute, and Scout Hutchinson, Curatorial Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Major funding for this exhibition is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; and Christie’s. Additional support comes from Judy and Charles Tate; David Zwirner; Eddie Allen and Chinhui Juhn; The Brown Foundation, Inc./Nancy Abendshein; Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Hilda Curran; Barbara and Michael Gamson; Janet and Paul Hobby; Linda and George Kelly; Dillon Kyle and Sam Lasseter; Susan and Francois de Menil; Franci Neely; Susanne and William E. Pritchard III; Leslie and Shannon Sasser; Bill Stewart and Johanna Brassert; Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray; Ann and Mathew Wolf Drawing Exhibition Fund; Nina and Michael Zilkha; and the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.
Ruth Asawa Through Line at the Menil Drawing Institute, Houston. Video: Jay Clark Films
Lecture: “Durable Fragility”: Ruth Asawa and the Materiality of Line | The Menil Drawing Institute, Houston, TX. April 11, 2024.
Panel Discussion: Ruth Asawa, Art & Life | The Menil Drawing Institute, Houston. | May 9, 2024