“The first sculpture I made with a piece of string and a little wire was the outline of a rectangular solid . . . lying on the floor. It was a casual act, but it seemed
to open up a lot of possibilities for me,” Fred Sandback recalled of a seminal sculpture he executed in 1966. In wanting to create sculpture that did not have an inside, he found the means to “assert a certain place or volume in its full materiality without occupying and obscuring it.” For more than three decades, Sandback pursued these formative insights with remarkable consistency and inventiveness, creating a body of work that is informed by a signature style and yet, as a result of the close interdependence of each piece with the architectural site in which it is realized, ever different in its manifestations.
For his presentation at Dia:Beacon, Sandback seamlessly integrated older pieces with newer ones to orient and ground the viewer in a particular place, a specific situation. Rigorously selected from his deliberately circumscribed lexicon, each sculpture was newly parsed for this site: “I don’t feel that once a piece is made, then it’s done with,” he explained. “I continue to work with older schemata and formats, and often begin to get what I want out of them only after many reworkings. Though the same substructure may be used many times, it appears each time in a new light. It is the measure of the relative success of a piece, not necessarily that a new structure emerges, but that a familiar one attains, in its present manifestation, a particular vibrancy or actuality.” Thus, not only the specific measurements and proportions but also the tone or hue of the yarn may have been adapted or altered as the artist intuitively adjusted a work to both its neighbors and its new location.
In these sculptures, space is both defined and imbued with an incorporeal palpability, so that often the spectator concentrates less on the edges, on the yarn demarcating the forms, than on the planar or volumetric components contained within. Whether transparent geometries, as in Untitled (1977)— a two-part vertical construction—and Untitled (1996)—two triangles—or simple linear trajectories, as in Untitled (1996)—a six-part vertical construction— Sandback’s sculptures unequivocally occupy the same physical site as the viewer. Inhabiting what the artist dubbed “pedestrian space”—the ordinary matter-of-fact space coextensive with that of the spectator and of the site— they reveal themselves over time, from different vantages, and according to different perspectives. Yet his work is never environmental, if such a term implies transforming the context. On the contrary, as he stated, “It incorporates specific parts of the environment, but it’s always coexistent with that environment, as opposed to overwhelming or destroying that environment in favor of a different one.”
All the works on view are made from acrylic yarn, a material that carried no significant connotations for Sandback. He preferred it over other similar materials, such as wire, because its soft, slightly fuzzy contours conjure a less crisp, less rigid line than that produced by metal, and its matte surface absorbs rather than reflects light. When required, a more strongly accentuated edge can easily be made by doubling or trebling the strings.
In his exploration of physical relationships via the immaterial rather than the concrete—via the interplay of vacancy and volume—Sandback recognized that the illusory and the factual are inextricably intertwined. “Fact and illusion are equivalents,” he asserted. “Trying to weed one out in favor of the other is dealing with an incomplete situation.” Nevertheless, he stressed that “in no way is my work illusionistic. Illusionistic art refers you away from its factual existence towards something else. My work is full of illusions, but they don’t refer to anything.”