Fred Sandback Thin Lines

Art Press - - HISTOIRE DE FIL - Trans­la­tion, C. Pen­war­den

Once again, Fré­dé­rique Jo­seph-Lo­we­ry has a sto­ry of threads to tell. Not of threads

tied, wo­ven and twis­ted, but of threads that are stret­ched, ten­sed to form vo­lumes and planes that vi­si­tors can ex­plore. Bet­ween ten­sion and light­ness, five “mi­ni­ma­list” sculptures by Fred Sandback have been re­crea­ted in the space of the Fon­da­tion Ber­nar Venet at Le Muy (Var), where they re­so­nate with the ar­chi­tec­ture

(June 15-Sep­tem­ber 30).

Fred Sandback is not well-known in France, al­though he en­joyed al­most im­me­diate suc­cess in the Uni­ted States when Vir­gi­nia Dwann sho­wed his works in her gal­le­ry in 1969. Do­nald Judd, his tea­cher, en­cou­ra­ged Sandback to show his work in his own stu­dio, when the ar­tist was still a student at Yale school of art and ar­chi­tec­ture. Hei­ner Frie­drich then ex­hi­bi­ted him in his gal­le­ry in Ger­ma­ny, in 1968 and la­ter, thanks to the pa­tro­nage of the Dia Art Foun­da­tion, which ope­ned the Sandback Mu­seum in Win­chen­don, where the ar­tist was constant­ly crea­ting new works from 1981 to 1996, he en­abled him to create a num­ber of lar­ger works. When the mu­seum clo­sed, a consi­de­rable num­ber of sculptures en­te­red the Dia’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, an hour and a half from New York. The Da­vid Zwir­ner gal­le­ry, which ma­nages his es­tate, re­gu­lar­ly shows his work. In Sandback’s li­fe­time there were on­ly five ex­hi­bi­tions of his pieces in France: the first at Ga­le­rie Yvon Lam­bert in 1970, the se­cond at the Con­sor­tium de Di­jon in 1984, the third at Ga­le­rie Li­liane & Mi­chel Du­rand-Des­sert in 1988, which was co­ve­red in art­press,( 1) the fourth at the L.A.C. in Si­gean (1992), and the last at Art­con­nexion in Lille (1998). In 2007, four years after Sandback’s death, the Mu­sée de Gre­noble or­ga­ni­zed a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion over five floors, which was fol­lo­wed a year la­ter by a show at the Pa­ri­sian Nel­son-Free­man gal­le­ry (in a se­con­da­ry space). It is the­re­fore a ve­ry good thing that Ber­nar Venet’s foun­da­tion at the Do­maine de Muy is hos­ting the work of this ma­jor re­pre­sen­ta­tive of Ame­ri­can Mi­ni­ma­lism, even if that is an af­fi­lia­tion that the ar­tist him­self always re­jec­ted. “Why mi­ni­ma­list? You might just as well say maxi­ma­list.” What he was in fact dea­ling with was so­me­thing quite consi­de­rable: “Space, light, facts are in play here.”(2) He was cal­led mi­ni­ma­list be­cause his ma­te­rial was mi­ni­mal: acry­lic thread whose qua­li­ty is poor if your aim is to weave, but ex­cellent if all you are going to do is stretch it so that it holds ri­gid, has hard­ness, and is trans­for­med in­to a force, a vec­tor. HARD AND SOFT THREAD Thread is, by its na­ture, limp. To har­den it, ei­ther you in­ter­t­wine it, you twist it, or you stretch it. Sandback stret­ched it. The thread can be simple or double. He chose a few, ve­ry long threads and stret­ched them bet­ween the walls, or from the floor to the cei­ling, so­me­times just along the floor. He thus sli­ced through the space by sculp­ting vo­lumes or planes that were re­du­ced to their edges. The par­ti­cu­la­ri­ty of his vo­lumes is that the sides are empty, im­ma­te­rial, even if, in Sandback’s eyes, they were not.(3) On­ly the edges are concrete: as thread. The ar­tist crea­ted sculptures “wi­thout mass,” “wi­thout in­ter­ior,” and wi­thout a pe­des­tal.(4) Stret­ched thread is the ideal ma­te­rial, for by na­ture it is ve­ry fine. That is why the works that most in­fluen­ced Sandback were the wi­ry fi­gures of Al­ber­to Gia­co­met­ti.(5) The cu­ra­tor of the ex­hi­bi­tion, Alexandre De­vals, points out that the works cho­sen could have been “even less vi­sible.” His aim is to present the sculptures while main­tai­ning their “dis­creet” and “gentle” pre­sence. The ten­sions, he adds, are “not ag­gres­sive.” When you come close to the threads, you see that their ex­treme ten­sion causes lots of lit­tle fi­bers to sit up. Sandback com­pa­red them to the lines of char­coal.(6) In the ear­ly days Sandback used steel rope or elas­tic rope, exem­pli­fied by a work from 1970 shown here. Using steel, he crea­ted U-sha­ped forms emer­ging from the walls, which were im­pos­sible to make in thread. Elas­tic rope grew slack.(7) Stret­ched thread com­bines the qua­li­ties of the hard and the soft. Sandback’s works oc­cu­py space dis­creet­ly, es­pe­cial­ly the ones cho­sen for the foun­da­tion in Le Muy.(8) Out of five sculptures pre­sen­ted, two are in a cor­ner, and a third is in a set­back. We re­co­gnize a py­ra­mi­dal vo­lume: three threads, two black and one orange, fixed on the two walls of the cor­ner, raise up its edges. They conti­nue along the floor, de­li­mi­ting the base of the de­cons­truc­ted py­ra­mid (1999). In the op­po­site cor­ner, two elas­tic ropes, white and double, are stret­ched bet­ween two white walls, ra­ther like a shelf in rec­tan­gu­lar glass (1970). From afar, gi­ven the white ground of the walls, the work is al­most in­vi­sible. The third sculp­ture is be­hind a pic­ture wall where twen­ty-two of his Construc­tion Dra­wings from 1980 hang. In this cor­ner, three double white spreads striate the tight space. This work, a va­ria­tion that Sandback ne­ver made, has ne­ver been seen be­fore. It consists of two Us, one bur­gun­dy co­lo­red, the other pink (1990). Each U is for­med by threads ten­sed from the floor to the cei­ling and joi­ned on the floor. This kind of sculp­ture always gives vi­si­tors the im­pres­sion they are wal­king through a glass pa­nel. For the ar­tist, though, such illu­sio­nis­tic ef­fects were se­con­da­ry. No sculp­ture oc­cu­pies the cen­tral space of the gal­le­ry. Ins­tead, we walk around there.(9) This is what Sandback cal­led the “pe­des­trian space.”(10) From there, we look at the oblique wall that shat­ters the rec­tan­gu­lar de­si­gn of the gal­le­ry, which con­se­quent­ly lacks a cor­ner. This wall sup­ports a re­lief in the form of a large A, the vo­wel that is re­pea­ted in the name Sandback; the threads run along the wall and form lines in sus­pense: they stop be­fore they can touch any of the edges of the pic­ture wall or floor. The tra­jec­to­ries of this re­lief di­rect the eye to­wards a gal­le­ry whose bay win­dows give on­to a lawn where Ber­nar Venet’s arcs are ins­tal­led. Eight threads stret­ched from the floor to the cei­ling, green like the grass, are dis­tri­bu­ted in groups of two. At each end of this row of four “poles” that are dia­pha­nous and wi­thout mass, in contrast to the so­lid black ar­ma­ture that rhyth­mi­cal­ly oc­cu­pies the glass wall, a single thread is stret­ched, re­min­ding us that what we are seeing is thread and no­thing else.

« Un­tit­led (Sculp­tu­ral stu­dy, Ten-part Ver­ti­cal Construc­tion) » (dé­tail). ca. 1983-2017. Laine acry­lique verte (Court. Venet Foun­da­tion ; Ph. Xi­nyi Yu). Grenn wool À droite / right: Vue de l’ins­tal­la­tion à la Dia: Bea­con, New York. 2003. (Pho­to: court. Fred Sandback Ar­chive) Ins­tal­la­tion at Dia:Bea­con, New York

I stress the role of the sculptures, for they are site-spe­ci­fic. Vi­si­tors will note the har­mo­nious, com­plex re­la­tion bet­ween the orien­ta­tion of the threads, their pro­por­tions and those of the in­cli­na­tion of the cei­ling and glass roofs. The gaze is constant­ly drawn up­wards. Of course, not all the sculptures ex­hi­bi­ted here were concei­ved for this gal­le­ry, but thanks to the theo­re­ti­cal work done be­fore the event with the ar­chi­tects of the Sandback Foun­da­tion, and with the help of the ar­tist’s wi­dow, Amy Ba­ker Sandback, the works cho­sen by Alexandre De­vals were re­crea­ted in the space at Le Muy ac­cor­ding to the ins­truc­tions and dia­grams left by the ar­tist. The ins­tal­la­tion expert from Chi­ca­go then came to stretch the threads and turn them in­to the walls, the cei­ling or the floor, lea­ving no at­tach­ment vi­sible. The wool is shea­thed in a lit­tle cop­per tube, it­self sunk in­to the sup­port. THE CHAR­LIE CHAPLIN MO­DEL Among the anec­dotes re­pea­ted by the cri­tics, there is a me­mo­ry of a film that Sandback’s mo­ther told him about: Char­lie Chaplin is ea­ting an ar­ti­choke. He is at a smart din­ner. He co­pies eve­ryone else and throws the leaves over his shoul­der, one by one. When he gets to the heart, he does the same thing. Sandback did not look for the heart of things, any more than Wa­rhol, that ado­rer of surfaces. He of­ten said that his sculptures dia­logue with ar­chi­tec­ture. That is their strength. His works are not sim­ply ma­te­rial and im­ma­te­rial; the whole space is “conta­mi­na­ted.” For the edges of the works en­ter in­to re­so­nance with those of the ar­chi­tec­ture. Vir­gi­nia Dwann has ex­plai­ned what we may feel when ex­pe­rien­cing Sandback’s works: “[he] sho­wed vo­lumes that were ab­so­lu­te­ly not there, but at the same time they were so there, psy­cho­lo­gi­cal­ly, that you would not dream of wal­king in that space. […] If you did not en­ter it, this was not just out of po­li­te­ness. One had the im­pres­sion that in rea­li­ty one could not en­ter it, that it was a vo­lume, with a den­si­ty and eve­ry­thing else.” My own im­pres­sion is the op­po­site. I am drawn in by the threads and over­come with an in­cre­dible light­ness as I ap­proach them, as if I was mel­ting where I stood.” When he was ad­mit­ted to Yale, Sandback spoke to his tea­chers about the ob­jects he used to make when he was a tee­na­ger—ban­jos and dul­ci­mers—and did ar­che­ry. The ten­sion of the strings is es­sen­tial in both these prac­tices. He was sur­pri­sed that his tea­chers paid so lit­tle at­ten­tion to that first crea­tive ges­ture, he­ral­ding the work to come: get­ting space to vi­brate and re­so­nate.

(1) art­press 124, April 1988. (2) Quo­ted in Flash Art, no. 40 (March–May 1973). (3) The Art of Fred Sandback: A Sur­vey, Cham­pai­gnUr­ba­na, Il­li­nois: Kran­nert Art Mu­seum, Uni­ver­si­ty of Il­li­nois, 1985. (4) Ibid. (5) Chi­na­ti Foun­da­tion News­let­ter (Mar­fa, Texas), Oc­to­ber 7, 2002, p. 26-32. (6) Or the ir­re­gu­lar edges of New­man’s zip. (7) Ibid. (8) “My in­tru­sions are usual­ly mo­dest,” says Sandback: Fred Sandback, Sculp­ture, 1966-1986, Mu­nich: Fred Jahn, 1986, p. 12-19. In Chil­dren’s Guide to

Seeing. Fred Sandback: Sculp­ture, Hous­ton: Con­tem­po­ra­ry Arts Mu­seum, 1989. Sandback re­lates his work to the an­cient game with string known as cat’s cradle. (9) And that is how Sandback wor­ked, as Thier­ry Da­vi­la ex­plai­ned in de­tail in an ar­ticle pu­bli­shed in art

press 319, Ja­nua­ry 2006: “Fred Sandback. L’in­ten­si­té dans la sculp­ture.” (10) “Fussgän­ge­rische Skulp­tu­ren. Ein In­ter­view von In­grid Rein mit dem Mi­ni­mal-Art-Künst­ler Fred Sandback.” No­vem­ber 1975. The ar­ticle is trans­la­ted in­to En­glish on the site of the Sandback ar­chives. (11) Fred Sandback. Mu­nich, Kuns­traum, 1975. I was not able to find the title of the Chaplin film or to confirm the au­then­ti­ci­ty of this re­col­lec­tion.

Fré­dé­rique Jo­seph-Lo­we­ry is an art cri­tic ba­sed in New York. She is cur­rent­ly wor­king on a book on the sub­ject of threads and tex­tiles in art.

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