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Fred Sandback

Long-term view, Dia Beacon


Using subtle methods and an economy of materials, Fred Sandback’s work creates striking perceptual effects in response to the surrounding architecture. Using store-bought spools of colored yarn, Sandback traced the space between different points on floors, ceilings, and walls, creating shapes and constructing the illusion of a pane of glass or shimmering lines of color. Previously on view since the opening of Dia Beacon in 2003, and following a pause of three years, a long-term installation of several of Sandback’s yarn works from Dia’s collection returns to the galleries in winter 2021.

Dia Beacon Interactive Floorplan

“The first sculpture I made with a piece of string and a little wire was the outline of a rectangular solid. . . . It was a casual act, but it seemed to open up a lot of possibilities for me,” Fred Sandback recalled of a germinal sculpture he executed in 1967. In making sculptures that do not have an inside, he hoped to “assert a certain place or volume in its full materiality without occupying and obscuring it.” Sandback pursued these formative insights with remarkable consistency and inventiveness. Both informed by a signature style and closely related to the archi-tecture in which it is realized, his body of work always differs in its manifestations.

For his first presentation at Dia Beacon (which is how the works continue to be installed), Sandback seamlessly integrated older works with newer ones to orient and ground the viewer in a particular place, a specific situation. Selected from his deliberately circumscribed lexicon, each sculpture was chosen for its installation at 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.” Thus the artist intuitively adjusted a work’s proportions and measurements depending on other works placed in conversation with it and its site of display.

In these sculptures, space is both defined and incorporeal. Often the spectator concentrates less on the edges demarcated by the yarn than on the planar or volumetric components contained within them. Whether transparent geometries, as in the two parts of Untitled (from Ten Vertical Constructions, 1977–79), or simple linear trajectories, as in Untitled (1996), Sandback’s sculptures inhabit what the artist dubbed “pedestrian space”—the space occupied by the spectator—as opposed to an environment constructed for display. Conceived to coexist with the architecture that hosts them, the sculptures reveal themselves over time, from various vantages and according to different perspectives.

All the works on view are made from acrylic yarn, a material that carried nosignificant conceptual connotations for Sandback. He preferred it over other materials such as wire, because its soft, slightly fuzzy contours conjure a less crisp and rigid line than that produced by metal and its matte surface absorbs rather than reflects light. When the artist desired a more strongly accentuated edge, he doubled or trebled the strings.

In his exploration of physical relationships through the interplay of vacancy and volume, Sandback recognized that “fact and illusion are equivalents. . . . 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.”

Support provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies

Video by SandenWolff
Interviews/story editing by Rachel Wolff
Shot by Noah Therrien and Jonathan Sanden
Edited by Jonathan Sanden and Stephen Parnigoni
Associate editor Tova Wolff
Original music by Noah Therrien
Archival video by Patrick Heilman

Dia Project Staff: Karey David, Katherine Ellis, Laura Fields, Hannah Gompertz, Matilde Guidelli Guidi, Jenn Kane, Deirdre O’Dwyer, and Dan Wolfe. Special thanks to Amy Sandback and David Gray
© 2022 Dia Art Foundation
All artwork and text by Fred Sandback © 2022 Fred Sandback Archive


1. Untitled (from Ten Vertical Constructions [rust red variation]), 1977–79
Rust red acrylic yarn; 2 parts
Dia Art Foundation; Gift of the Fred Sandback Estate

2. Untitled (Two-part Construction), 1996
Ochre and beige acrylic yarn
Dia Art Foundation; Gift of the Fred Sandback Estate

3. Untitled (Two-part Vertical Construction), 1979
Black acrylic yarn; 2 parts
Dia Art Foundation; Gift of the Fred Sandback Estate

4. Untitled , 1996
White acrylic yarn; 6 parts
Dia Art Foundation

5. Untitled (Two-part Vertical Construction), 1977–79
Black acrylic yarn; 2 parts
Dia Art Foundation; Gift of the Fred Sandback Estate

6. Untitled (from 133 Proposals for Heiner Friedrich Gallery), 1969
Blue and green acrylic yarn; 4 parts
Dia Art Foundation

7. Untitled (from Ten Vertical Constructions), 1977–79
Black acrylic yarn; 10 parts
Dia Art Foundation

Fred Sandback was born in Bronxville, New York, in 1943. After receiving a BA in philosophy at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, he studied sculpture at Yale’s School of Art and Architecture. His first solo exhibitions took place at Galerie Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf, and Galerie Heiner Friedrich, Munich, bothin 1968. His work has been presented in numerous solo museum exhibitions, including at Pinakothek der Modern, Munich (2003); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2011); and Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland (2015). Dia initiated and maintained the Fred Sandback Museum in Winchendon, Massachusetts, between 1981 and 1996. For the opening of Dia Beacon in 2003, a selection of Sandback’s sculptures from the collection were on long-term view. The Fred Sandback Archive was established in 2007 primarily to create and maintain an archival resource on his art. Sandback died in 2003 in New York.


Fred Sandback

Fred Sandback was born in Bronxville, New York, in 1943. He died in New York City in 2003.

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