Fred Sandback


Fred Sandback, essay by Sasha M. Newman, Curator and Writer

Exhibition catalogue no 7
No of pages:
32, color, illustrated
soft cover

Language: Swedish and English
Year: 1991
Publisher: Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall


Fred Sandback by Sasha M. Newman

Originating in the theoretical landscape of the 1960s, the art of Fred Sandback occupies a distinct position in relation to the objectives of Minimalist art. As a young artist Sandback actively participated in the discourse developed by Minimalism’s first-generation practitioners – Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Carl Andre. He assimilated their agressively declared ambition to break with the formal space of modern sculpture and to subvert the traditional hierarchical relationship between viewer and object. Minimalism’s essential texts privileged the role of the spectator and advocated an art that “takes relationships out of the work and makes them a function of space, light, and the viewer’s field of vision”. Yet in practice, Minimalist art often failed to achieve its theoretical goals. Although individual failures were variable, all reveal an underlying inability to achieve a truly relative rather than a fixed art. Sandback’s mature work, while it continues a dialogue with its Minimalist beginnings, functions also as a quiet critique of the successes and shortcomings of those artists, particularly Judd and Morris, who were so influential in his development.

Sandback’s central sculptural concern is the expansion of the viewer’s perceptual possibilities. While his sculptures share in Minimalism’s sense of experiential surprise, they are never willfully mute nor perversely controlling of the perceptual situations they create. Unlike Flavin and Judd, Sandback chose not to command the materials of industry as an artist’s tool. And he purposefully eschews the architectural monoliths of Morris and Andre.

Instead the materials and forms of his mature work – yarn and string and open space rather than closed volumes – are intentionally ambiguous, almost obstinately innocuous. Taken flaccid and unshaped from an unprepossessing bag, strands of yarn are transformed, not alchemically but pragmatically, from their uninflected benign state into taut spatial configurations that define, contain, and reinvent the space they inhabit. Freed from the insistent frontality of most Minimalist art, Sandback’s sculptures allow for infinite subtlety and nuance, for an endless variation made all the more compelling by the artist’s modest and strictly essentialized means. Unlike the machine finish of Judd’s cubes, or the impersonal object-ness of Flavin’s fluorescent tubes, Sandback’s finished sculptures reveal, albeit subtly, the traces of his labor. These traces are manifest not in grand gestures of poured lead like Richard Serra or torn felt like Barry LeVa, other artists of the post-Minimalist generation, but in the balance of contradictions established by Sandback’s manipulation of his medium, pieces of yarn and string whose primary relationship with craft is reformulated so that, subsequent to their installation, they resonate with an industrial edge. The yarn, once soft, has the insistence of metal as it cuts through space. Sandback’s is not an invasive art, but a transformative one in which conditioned expectations are constantly upended. Despite its Pythagorean elegance, it owes little to mathematics; systems suggested ultimately reveal no system at all; and what might appear to be clearly defined volumes is in fact air or space. (…)