PRINT October 2003


Fred Sandback

I met the sculptor Fred Sandback through my partner in Artforum and copublisher Amy Baker, though I only got to know him after they married in 1982. He was a shy, kind, wryly humorous bear of a man, with the look of someone who wanted to be anywhere else but in the middle of an art-world function. He was an outdoorsman who loved to travel but was happiest and most at home in the woods and lakes around Rindge, New Hampshire, where his family had a house and where he spent much of his time.

When we first met I knew his work only through illustrations, which give little sense of its quality. I remember thinking that Fred’s meager materials—taut lengths of acrylic yarn—pushed the definition of sculpture. I also remember being amused later when I heard that his new sculptures were no longer made only with monochrome yarn but could now be multicolored. It’s easy to be flip about such minimal art: Little did I realize how different and beautiful, even magical, these works would be. But unlike the magician who makes things disappear, Fred, the consummate artist, made space visible, and seemingly tangible. He once wrote that he wanted “the volume of sculpture without the opaque mass” and “to make sculpture that didn’t have an inside.” Most significantly, he observed that “illusions are just as real as facts, and facts are just as ephemeral as illusions.” For proof of his success at realizing these goals, you can see visitors at Dia:Beacon stepping carefully around Fred’s installations to avoid colliding with what they perceive to be the solid transparency edged by his yarn.

The gallerist Holly Solomon once told me that when she bought a major Sandback piece in the ’70s, she was intrigued to see Fred arrive at her apartment to install it carrying only a small “baggie” with a few pins and a length of yarn. And yet what superb art resulted from these humble ingredients. Years later, when I saw a room of Fred’s sculpture installed in the Sammlung Hoffmann in Berlin, the space was alive with dynamic tension, as full and impressive as if the works had been constructed of stone. Indeed, some of his plans for site-specific installation of his yarn could have been diagrammatic illustrations for Stonehenge.

My favorite memory of Fred is when he joined an expedition to the North Pole led by Sir Edmund Hillary. He took along a copy of Artforum and as a joke was photographed reading it beside the post marking the Pole. We later used the photograph as a Christmas greeting card. Looking at that typically humorous gesture of Fred’s, we could have no idea how saddened we would be one day to learn that he had taken his life, leaving his family and friends devastated, and all of us grieving over the anguish he must have suffered.

Anthony Korner is publisher of Artforum.