New York

Fred Sandback

Someday someone should write a history of the central role of paradox in minimalism. Fred Sandback stretches taut strings of acrylic yarn. So taut (there are no variations along the string, no detours, no points of interest, just the straight line) that it becomes—you guessed it—a tautology. A tautology is a disappearing act wherein one term so equalizes another that both are left without substance or meaning; they are canceled out. It’s an echo in which all point of origin is lost. It is muteness having recurring nightmares of strangled articulation.

Sandback’s strings are self-effacing enough to be nearly invisible, to “say” virtually nothing. They are full of repetitions: each string reproduces itself in shadowy offspring. Often it is difficult to distinguish string from shadow; according to their titles, three of the four constructions are “isometric,” a word ripe in itself with redundancies, referring both to a sameness among measurements or dimensions and to the muscular contractions that are analogous to the tension of the strings.

The twin elements of a tautology sleep in separate rooms; the enemy elements of a paradox share a single bed. The usual minimalist paradox, of things to look at when there’s nothing to see, exists in the work in the variability of the length of the strings, permutations of angles, changes in depth of field between string and wall, etc., but one can get even more paradoxical. If Sandback’s strings can be said to disappear by virtue of their reserve and often low visibility, how can they cast shadows? How can the shadow be more “there” than the string? The shadows are the only things that change; they thicken, thin, multiply, create different configurations when viewed from different angles. How can the strings, which are tangible, visible, and stable, have less going for them than the shadows, which are unstable and merely visible? Sandback makes sculptures which campaign for drawing and advocate opticality over tactility. Moreover, this demonstration of our susceptibility to the platonic dichotomy rejects Plato. Sandback seems to endorse those “flickering shadows” over the reality of the strings outside the cave. At the very least he might contend that, like love and marriage, you both can and cannot have one without the other.

The tautology in which two terms are identical is meaningless; the paradox in which terms are mutually exclusive is most enlightening. How far from a tautology to a paradox? Take out two words in this tautology “you will either get what you most want or you will not,” and you have this paradox: “you will get what you most want; you will not get what you most want.” Hence, the minimalist mode—taking things away—produces the minimalist moral: in every tautology is the germ of a paradox.

Jeanne Silverthorne