Fred Sandback at David Zwirner

Installation view, Fred Sandback, David Zwirner, New York, April 1–May 21, 2022. Courtesy David Zwirner.

Fred Sandback

David Zwirner

April 1 through May 21, 2022


Born in Bronxville, slightly north of New York City, Fred Sandback studied philosophy at Yale (1966) before receiving his master’s degree in sculpture (1969) there. He is regarded as a leading minimalist, working primarily with yarn to define space in a volumetric fashion. His art, ethereal to the point of evanescence, shapes empty space by attaching the yarn to the ceiling, wall, or floor. The results are strikingly elegant as determinants of space, despite the absolutely minimal nature of the intervention. Sandback’s art can be considered in sharp contrast to the boxy steel forms of Richard Serra, who projected volume as something weighted and real, rather than the implied bodies of space Sandback was so good at intimating. But both men subscribe to the dictum “Less is more,” Sandback especially. 

Fred Sandback, Untitled (Sculptural Study, Six-part Vertical Construction), c. 1983/2022. © 2022 Fred Sandback Archive. Courtesy Fred Sandback Archive and David Zwirner.

In Untitled (Sculptural Study, Six Part Vertical Construction) (1983-2022), Sandback has extended several red cords, which begin in the gallery’s small, round lobby space and rise to the ceiling, surrounded by the spiraling stairs. It is a marvelous piece, not only elegantly defining the space encircling it, but also a linear sculpture in its own right, whose long travel upward establishes both a bit of solidity (the cords are closely placed together) and an open feeling for a vertical rise. Sandback establishes here, with entirely minimal means, a column of strong interest joining sculpture to architectural space. Then in another memborable piece (1971-1980), Sandback created four open-form, steel rods painted a dark purple. The four forms, which attach to the room’s lower wall, extend out over the floor and drop rectangularly down to the flooring, are separated from each other by greater and greater amounts of space.

The result of the work is that of an unusually graphic and measured rationality, but a rationality given lyric measure by the fine sparsity of the single element defining form and space. Sandback can do so much with so little! These forms are very hard to define in any figurative sense, but they convey the sense that the airy spaces they contain are physical actualities. They also embody a self-sustaining system. In the large work Untitled (Sculptural Study: Points Determining a Random Folding of an Imaginary Plane) (1977-2022), Sandback uses black acrylic yarn to construct a wall determined by outlines. On the left, a rather narrow but tall triangle moves to the right before making a turn to the right to start a large rectangle, off of which another rectangle is angled. The shapes are all created by string alone. Sandback’s highly specific, scientific title indicates that art of unusual sophistication can be made with the simplest of directions. This work suggests a linear plane more than a contained volume; yet there is neither weight nor mass to solidify its design. Maybe the sculptural study suggests that volume is as much a construct of the imagination as it is actual reality. If the masses suggested by Sandbck’s strings are indeed only masses of air, then air’s visual weight is as much a true piece of matter as things we would bump up against if we walked into them.

Fred Sandback, Untitled, 1979 © 2022 Fred Sandback Archive. Courtesy Fred Sandback Archive and David Zwirner.

The final piece to be discussed is a detail from a suite of eight untitled prints, linear white forms very close in pattern to Sandback’s yarn sculptures. The forms are presented against a bright blue background of Japanese paper. Hung vertically in rows of two, the series presents in each work, with small variations, three stacked images of the artist’s roughly rectangular outlines, all with a right-angle turn and a single white line moving downward through the forms, almost as if impaling them. This body of work is an excellent variation on the sculptural shapes established by yarn. In general, his art is marked by sharp attention to detail, coupled with a paradoxical ability of create space out of linear elements. The formalism displayed in this outstanding show presents minimalism as something poetic and fine-spirited rather than massive and bulky or industrial in nature. Sandback’s subtleties are very much to be admired. WM


Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications. 


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