Fred Sandback (1943—2003) received a BA in Philosophy from Yale before studying sculpture at Yale School of Art and Architecture. Fellow students included Donald Judd and Robert Morris. He began showing his work early with his first solo exhibitions in 1968 at Konrad Fischer’s gallery in Düsseldorf and Heiner Friedrich’s gallery in Munich. That same year, his work was also selected for what was then the Whitney’s Annual exhibition. Off to an impressive start, Sandback maintained an active, international exhibition schedule throughout his career such as the Biennale of Sydney in 1976 and the Biennial Exhibition of American Artists at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1979. The Fred Sandback Museum in Winchendon, Massachusetts was initiated by Dia Foundation in 1981 and remained open until 1996. The Dia Foundation has supported the work of Sandback and other Minimalist artists by collecting, showing and maintaining it throughout the years. There is a strong and moving installation of Sandback’s work on permanent view at Dia Beacon.
Sandback’s work continues to be relevant with solo and group exhibitions in 2012 including: Fred Sandback at Jensen Gallery in Sydney, February 9-March 25; Fred Sandback: Corner Constructions at Annemarie Verna Galerie in Zürich, February 9-April 21; Fred Sandback: Zeichnungen und Graphik at Galerie Fred Jahn in Munich, March 1-March 24; Fred Sandback: Decades, Works 1969-2000 at David Zwirner in New York, March 9-April 21; Master Drawings New York at Barbara Mathes Gallery, January 20-February 25;Par Par Set at Barbara Krakow Gallery in Boston, January 28-March 10; Notations: The Cage Effect Today at Times Square Gallery, Hunter College in New York, February 17-April 21; Lines of Thought at Parasol Unit, February 28-May 13; Form/Struktur/Gestalt at Annemarie Verna Galerie in Zürich, May 2-24; 1-2-3 von A-Z: Graphische Folgen at Stadtische Galerie Villa Zanders in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, May 5-June 24; Nouvelles Boîtes at Kunstmuseum Lucerne, July 7-October 12; Notations: Contemporary Drawing as Idea and Process at Mildred Lane Kemper Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, September 14-January 7, 2013; and Minimal Reloaded at Kunstraum Alexander Bürkle in Freiburg, October 21-February 24, 2013.
Two Preparatory Drawings
“For me, what makes Sandback’s work so moving is not that he did so much with so little, but that he did so little. The extreme reticence of Sandback’s work is not something I experience as an act of withholding but rather as an act of extraordinary generosity. By removing himself to the extent that he does, he makes a place for me. It’s not a place in front of his work, or next to his work, or inside his work … It makes a place for me inside the institution that the work is inside….” —Andrea Fraser, Why Does Fred Sandback’s Work Make Me Cry, Grey Room 22, Winter 2005, MIT Press
In his essay, Remarks on My Sculpture 1966–1986, Fred Sandback explains, “The first sculpture I made with a piece of string and a little wire was the outline of a rectangular solid—a 2 x 4 inch—lying on the floor. It was a casual act, but it seemed to open up a lot of possibilities for me.” That “casual act” was in fact a profound gesture that cut-through-the-chase of the Minimalist endeavor. Activating what the artist has referred to as “pedestrian space,” Sandback’s installations employee space as a material that is sliced and held with acrylic string to delineate planes and establish structures of absence/emptiness.
Empty-but-full is the oeuvre of Fred Sandback, represented in where is the power by two preparatory drawings. One is an elegant presentation in which taut, thin, white and black lines seem to float on a dark blue sheet of paper, pointing to the ethereal quality found in Sandback’s signature string installations. The other, a small but bold drawing, includes a piece of masking tape at its edge. The physicality of the tape is a reminder that this gorgeous little drawing is merely a two-dimensional representation of what is ultimately a corner installation, physically built and occupying space.
“…to make visible how the world touches us.” —Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Cezanne’s Doubt
Sandback’s work is a meeting point that seems precarious but is emphatic. It is where the ethereal meets the physical. It is also a private revelation in a public space/place. It is the shadow or reflection that catches your attention and when you turn to share your precious finding, it has disappeared – leaving you alone in more ways than one. There is a conviction in the work that suggests the toll such a conviction might have on its maker. Something personal is being shared and the viewer feels chosen when it is received.