By Bill Clarke
March 9 – April 21, 2012
This concise and deceptively straightforward-looking survey of the work of Fred Sandback (1943 – 2003) was an excellent primer on the influential American artist’s key concerns – materiality, space, seriality and, most unexpectedly, time and duration. Titled Decades, the exhibition brought together works from 1968 to 2000, one from each of the artist’s active decades, most in his trademark material, acrylic yarn, as well as a sampling of drawings, minimalist sculptures in other materials (such as Plexiglas) and artists' books.
Using the most economical of means, Sandback created sculptural installations that assert their presence and recede into the background simultaneously. Untitled (Sculptural Study, Four-part Mikado Construction), 1991, consists of four lengths of blue yarn stretched diagonally from ceiling to floor or from wall-to-wall. Circling the work, or carefully stepping into it – no one wants to the person who trips over the yarn and brings the whole construction down! – heightens viewers’ awareness of their physical presence within the gallery space. Like most of Sandback’s work, this single construction gives the impression of being multiple constructions, depending on the angle from which it is seen. Untitled (Sculptural Study, Twelve-part Vertical Construction), ca. 1987, which consists of a ‘column’ made of black, blue and pale yellow yarn stretched vertically from floor to ceiling is another excellent example of the artist’s visual ingenuity. From one angle, the arrangement appears dense, but take a few steps in either direction, and suddenly spaces open up between the columns of yarn.
In the middle of the gallery were four rooms recreating the Galerie Heiner Friedrich space in Munich, where the artist displayed many works throughout the 1960s and 70s. Here, viewers encountered 16 Variations of 2 Diagonal Lines, 1972, which consisted of two small rooms each containing a single strand of yellow yarn. The durational aspect of this installation was revealed by pages from the artist’s book Sandback produced in conjunction with the original installation, depicting a blueprint of the rooms with two yellow lines indicating the different configurations in which the yarn could be affixed. Over the course of the installation, the positions of the two strands of yarn were changed 16 times based on the drawings. At the back of the gallery, another suite of drawings picturing two black lines in different arrangements were elegant, stand-alone exercises in minimalism, but also acted as a diagram for the seemingly infinite permutations that the artist could tease out of only two lengths of yarn. One can’t help but marvel at Sandback’s ability to do so much so effectively with so little.