Fred Sandback: String Theory


In the process of defining what's not there, Sandback's work defines what is. And it's the same thing

Fred Sandback’s work defines space by the simplest and most economical of means: acrylic yarn attached at fixed geometric points between the ceiling and the floor, or the wall and the floor. This dry explanation is not enough. You have to see the work. Better still, you have to experience it.

A first look suggests more than what’s actually there: One installation would seem to be an enormous rectangle of glass leaning against a wall; another, mirrors suspended at precise angles to one another. But, no, it’s less. Just the yarn and the space. Then as you approach and then inhabit the space of the work, you realize it’s much more.

It’s too corny to say that you become one with the work, so I won’t say that. (But you do, investing something of yourself into it, if only momentarily, while at the same time taking away somehing of its ordered calm.) In this way, Sandback was the anti-Serra. You’re never closed in, you’re never in danger, real or perceived, that tons of metal will come crashing down on you, and there’s nothing of the vertiginous thrill of curving and canted walls that challenge your relationship to perpendicular. With Sandback’s work, you always know where you stand—but you may not be quite so sure of where it does. The momentary disjunct is transcendent. That's an amazing sleight of hand for a few feet of yarn.

Two more views of the work glimpsed in the opening picture, an articulation of angled space on both sides of the same wall

Corner detail below

The show you see here, in the vast David Zwirner gallery on 19th Street, ended on February 14, but I shot three installations from several different vantage points, so perhaps you can experience something of what I did. The work is equal parts sculpture and drawing, volume and air, substance and exquisite ephemerality.
(A second show, in the much smaller Zwirner & Wirth gallery on the Upper East Side, is up through February 28. Both galleries feature additional installation shots on their websites. )

Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Vertical Construction), 1986/2008, black acrylic yarn, dimensions vary with each installation
Two additional views below

Above and below: Two views of Untitled (Sculptural Study, Six-part Construction), 1977-2008, black acrylic yarn, dimensions vary with each installation

This work was for me the most compelling. Entering the large gallery, I thought I saw mirrors hanging to several inches from the floor. Angled this way and that, they seemed to reflect the walls, the floor, the lights, one another. It was a fleeting perception. Sandback's work is anything but (smoke and) mirrors. But so strong was the illusion of the work being somehow suspended, I had to see for myself that the line, the yarn, was indeed secured into the floor.
In the process of walking around and through the work, that oneness thing happened again. Then pulling back and walking to the far end of the "row," I saw this amazing series of what can only be called drawings:

Now I'll tell you this at the risk of overdramatizing, but after my close-to-an-hour visit, I walked back out onto 19th Street feeling as if I'd spent the time doing yoga.
Additional reading:
. Sandback's 2003 obit in the New York Times by Ken Johnson
. Sandback's work on permanent view at Dia Beacon


Christopher Quirk said...

This is an extremely compelling exhibition, as you describe. It very successfully sets your sensory faculties on full alert and brings you into the moment. A lot of spatial confusion for me, as depth is often understood via height, at that gets obliterated by the geometry of the yarn lines against the monochrome grey floor. Also, big prize to the installers; the alignments were absolutely impeccable. Great experience seeing this show.

Stephanie Clayton said...

Beautiful, rather contemplative and, dare I say, zen. Yes, quite opposite from Serra's work, IMO (I do admire his work..)

I'm reminded of Miami Art Museum's exhibition last summer, "Shadows, Disappearances and Illusions".

This is the type of installation I would look at for so long and from varying perspectives, that security just wishes I would leave!

This post is wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

hmmm. did I not post? or missed something?

try again:

Fred danced... and continues.

One of the interesting points here is not only that the plainspoken materials are doing miraculous things, or the miraculous is getting bestowed upon us through our interaction, a kind of you-don't-have to get-in-that-funny-position yoga, but that they exist as plans. They can, as long as the plans remain, and 'an idea of the' material used is held, can be remade until all time is done. And there is no fading or tarnishing. These thus are a collectors delight - the ephemeral and eternity perfectly synced.

And thanks Joanne for posting, and giving your personal experience.

Stephanie Sachs said...

WOW! Thanks for the pictures and the wonderful description. Wish I could see it but this is the next best thing.

Carol Diehl said...

Thank you, Joanne, for this wonderful post and for the photos! It's ambitious to try to photograph the experience of that work, but you succeed.

Amanda Crowe said...

Hey Joanne thanks for this informative post. Fred Sandback’s space delimitations looked fantastic. I knew that the rectangular outline was comprised purely of black string, not glass or some other solid surface, but I tried to bring myself to interrupt the immaterial plane and I couldn’t.