On Thursday, Bonhams announced that it will offer Ruth Asawa’s Untitled (S.408) dated 1953–54, one of the artist’s signature hanging wire sculptures in its upcoming Post-War & Contemporary Art sale scheduled to take place on July 1 in New York. The piece carries an estimate of $1 million–$1.5 million
A California native, born to a family of Japanese immigrants, Asawa studied under 20th-century giants like Josef Albers, Willem de Kooning, and famed composer John Cage in the mid-1940s, an era in which she began weaving in wire, the signature technique for which her hanging sculptures have gained renown.
The Bonhams sale marks the first time the work has ever been showcased in public. “It has been in the same family collection for more than half a century after being acquired directly from Asawa in 1954,” says Bonhams Global Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Ralph Taylor. “Asawa pushed the boundaries of her material, and Untitled (S.408) perfectly expresses the beauty and skill encapsulated in the artist’s dazzling hanging pieces.”
Asawa is among the several key female postwar artists, once overlooked by institutions and the market, whose work has recently received greater attention. When the artist’s wire sculptures debuted in New York in the 1950s, they were dismissed for their proximity to domestic craft.
It was not until after her death in 2013 and the David Zwirner announcement in 2017 of the gallery’s representation of her estate—when they brought on Asawa expert Jonathan Laib, formerly of Christie’s—that recognition of the artist began to rise. Recent auction figures demonstrate the demand for the artist’s now-coveted wire sculptures. At a Christie’s contemporary day sale in November 2019, a new record was set when Asawa’s 1955 wire piece Untitled (S.387), sold for $4.1 million, more than four times its $900,000 low estimate. Another item from 1954 sold at Sotheby’s in the same month for $1.2 million in a contemporary day auction, going for six times its $200,000 high estimate.
Asawa’s work resides in several of the country’s most prominent collections, including those in the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum in New York; the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, both in Los Angeles; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She was also the subject of a major solo survey at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis in 2018, and she will be the focus of an exhibition in 2021 at the Modern Art Oxford in England titled Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe.