Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fred Sandback




On Saturday I saw Fred Sandback’s work in David Zwirner gallery. An American artist (1943-2003), Sandback composes sculptures made of “lengths of yarn stretched horizontally, vertically, or diagonally in a variety of configurations that include rectangles, triangles, U-shapes, and floor-to-ceiling vertical lines” (exhibition press statement).

The works in the exhibition range from wall reliefs to whole-room installations. I like the installations that “inhabit” a whole room. Though yarn is such a lightweight and thin material, the lines are not overwhelmed by the space; instead, the colored lines divide and multiply one’s perspectives of the pure white room.

Untitled (Sculptural Study, Seventeen-part Right-angled Construction) consists of 17 parallel L-shaped lines of red yarn, that begin from one side of the room and end about three-quarter way across the room. I tried to figure out the “reason” for the length of the horizontal yarn-lines, and for the spacing between each L. Standing behind the central, ninth L, I saw the ends of all 17 horizontal lines align with the vertical lines. In this way, the installation suggests a position for a viewer, and a direction for a view.

Directions for viewing are also embedded in the other whole-room installation. Broadway Boogie Woogie (Sculptural Study, Twenty-eight Part Vertical Construction) comprises 28 vertical lengths of acrylic yarn in red, yellow and blue that extend from floor to ceiling. At first I could not figure out the plan. Then I noticed that most of the lines are matched pairs of the same color. Aligning each pair in my sightline gave me different perspectives on the installation.

From one perspective, the lines group themselves into two factions: majority versus minority. From another perspective, the three corners of the installation, each marked by a different colored yarn, highlighted the absence of a fourth corner. Yet another perspective seemed, to me, to illuminate the minimalist beauty of vertical lines, and the planes or the entrances framed by a pair of lines. The arrangement that had seemed so random resolved into a deeply thought-through plan.

Then it struck me that there is no good reason why I should view the installation only through the alignment of yarns of the same color. Aligning two yarn-lines of any color multiplies the already plentiful points of view, and that thought is both daunting and generous. Color, the obvious signifier of race, may also stand for any markers of difference: sex, gender, religion, diet, ways of viewing art.

In the gallery room, the lines of yarn quiver in response to a draught from somewhere. They move in a way not expected of lines in a painting, say, Mondrian’s own Broadway Boogie Woogie. Sandback’s installation not only pays tribute to his conceptual and minimalist predecessor, it also suggests its sculptural differences from painting, and its affinities to architecture. Or as Sandback himself put it: “less a thing-in-itself, more of a diffuse interface between myself, my environment, and others peopling that environment, built on thin lines that left enough room to move through and around…A drawing that is habitable.”

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