STANFORD, Calif. — The 233 masks that originally hung on the exterior of Ruth Asawa’s family home in San Francisco’s Noe Valley are publicly displayed in their entirety for the first time in the ongoing exhibition The Faces of Ruth Asawa at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center. Installed on the reverse side of the wall upon which the Stanford Family Collection death masks are exhibited as part of Mark Dion’s The Melancholy Museum, Asawa’s life masks disentangle the impulse to collect from a culture of mourning — they do not keep count of past or future losses.
Asawa was inspired by a 1966 Life magazine article on Roman busts, and became determined to create imagines, Latin for wax images, of her friends, neighbors, students, and family. She fit cardboard cut-outs over her sitters’ vaselined faces and then applied plaster. Once it was set, she would lift the plaster mold and fill it with clay to create a mask that holds the trace of a moment — a stencil of the real. The instant moments that she captured were what she liked about casting faces. Asawa’s preference for immediacy is echoed in her frustrations about cultural institutions’ fetishization of Japanese internment. She told Paul Karlstrom in an interview, “I didn’t want to be a victim […] Our life as immigrants was much harder than the internment … Just surviving was much more intense.”
Asawa did not want to cast faces of the dead but instead “people who go on after this.” She froze the moment, not in anticipation of grief — like photography’s enfolding of “that is” into the tragedy of “that has been” — but to linger with the intensity of the present, the miracle of having come thus far, and the promises of becoming. The grooves of faces are the riverbeds for growth. Asawa was enraptured by the uniqueness of each face: the waxing and waning of cheeks, the topography of pores and smile lines, a faint vein on the forehead, or the occasional pursed lips.
The masks are one of many repeating motifs in Asawa’s house, akin to the cobblestones that her children gathered to pave the walkway, the loops of wire in her sculptures, and the waves that meander and tessellate on the door. Asawa vowed to create a thousand, or even ten thousand life masks. She collected the features of all those who she had the fortune of knowing — from her mentor at Black Mountain College, Gwendolyn Knight, to her student Willie at McAteer High School to her long-time friend and collaborator Mae Lee, who lived next door to Asawa, brought her food, and practiced tai chi with her for the last 30 years of Asawa’s life.
The life masks seem to mirror the words of Luce Irigaray as currencies of “exchanges without identifiable terms, without accounts, without end … without additions and accumulations, one plus one, woman after woman.” The faces that multiply and undulate are afterlives and aspirations of giving without reserve, enjoyment without a fee, perception without judgment, and survival without pain.
The Faces of Ruth Asawa continues indefinitely at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University (328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way, Stanford, California). The exhibition was curated by Dr. Aleesa Alexander as part of the Asian American Art Initiative.
Goya’s Coded Love Letter to the Duchess of Alba
Goya neatly clothes himself in his own world of fantasy: He will have her in the end. In life, where the climate is much chillier, it was, alas, to be otherwise.
Witches Take Over Westchester
Bowen’s multimedia art is an alchemical mix of the sensuous and arcane, and it is more than a little witchy.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
14 Art Books and Catalogues We’re Reading This Month
Anthologies and catalogues on feminist art in Latin America, Native mound building, Armenian photography, and more are on our reading list.
Saudi Arabia Announces $1M “Freedom of Expression” Art Award
Kanye West, Roman Polanski, and Carl Andre are among the shortlisted artists.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
British Museum Offers Greece “Exclusive NFT” of the Parthenon Marbles
“With the power of blockchain technology, there will be no question who the real owner is,” said a British Museum spokesperson.
MoMA to Co-Curate Exhibition With NYPD
Arrest Me, Daddy hopes to cast a more positive light on the work of law enforcement officers.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
Repatriation-Inspired Fragrance Line Hopes to Heal Collector Wounds
The exotic scents of the Rapatriement line offer solace and joy to dismayed collectors who were forced to return looted artifacts.
Mediocre Painting Thought AI-Generated Revealed as Work of Real Artist
Visitors who spoke to Hyperallergic said they were “horrified” to learn that a human could come up with such a banal and poorly executed artwork.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Prince Harry to Star in New Van Gogh Biopic
The estranged prince said he took the role to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Newly Discovered Trove of Vermeer Works Reveals He Painted Mainly Dogs
A cache of 243 paintings found in an English castle, all depicting canine subjects, suggests Vermeer’s true aspiration was to become a dog portraitist.