In the early 1960s, an upscale San Francisco department store commissioned artist Ruth Asawa to create a sculpture for one of their Bay-Area stores. The resulting work, pictured above, comprises four looped-wire sculptures, each composed of two lobes connected by necks of varying lengths. In three of the four works, Asawa nests smaller spheres within one of the lobes, experimenting with the effects she could achieve with layering, transparency, and color contrast.

In addition to conceiving of her sculptures as singular forms, Asawa also considered them in relation to each other, explaining that she was intrigued by the new shapes created in the spaces between the works. Asawa traced this interest in the negative, or the in-between spaces, to her training in the Japanese art of calligraphy, in which the space surrounding the letter is considered to be as important as the form of the letter itself. She was also influenced by her Black Mountain College instructor, Josef Albers, who encouraged his students to draw objects by defining the spaces that surround them. Asawa described Albers’s lesson as a prompt to “never…see anything in isolation.”

To see this sculpture and other works by Ruth Asawa, visit Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work, on view through February 16, 2019.