Ruth Asawa’s Radical Universalism
a presentation by Jason Vartikar
Wednesday, September 23rd at 1 PM EDT

View the archived simulcast on Youtube

How are Ruth Asawa’s hanging wire sculptures a form of activism for racial justice?

Just a few years after leaving Rohwer internment camp, Asawa started making her signature hanging wire works at Black Mountain College at precisely the moment that she started to think about how cellular biology could demonstrate racial equality. In the sculptures, lobes of wire mesh interpenetrate, just like the dividing cells that she studied in classes. Do Asawa’s sculptures gesture to the fundamental building blocks, cells, that unite all human beings as one kind? Do Asawa’s sculptures visualize universal equality at the cellular level? If so, her sculptures, in fact, are poignant forms of activism today—at a time when the concept of race continues to rip apart the fabric of our world. Her art asks us to consider how we can further positive change through expression.

This presentation is free + open to all, presented as part of BMCM+AC’s Museum from Home Initiative.

Jason Vartikar (he/him)

Jason is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Art & Art History at Stanford University. His research examines American art and literature, especially in relation to critical race theory, and the histories of science and romanticism. His first peer-reviewed article, “Ruth Asawa’s Early Wire Sculpture and a Biology of Equality” appears in the current Spring 2020 issue of American Art, vol. 34, no. 1, and argues that the artist’s biomorphic sculptures engage midcentury biological science and its expanding rhetoric against racial hierarchies.

From 2011-2016 he was a founder and director of the Hansel and Gretel Picture Garden and Pocket Utopia – a critically acclaimed gallery and performance venue in New York City, which collaborated with many institutions, including Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Vartikar is currently writing his dissertation about the artist Charles Burchfield.