Fred Sandback

The Chinati Foundation

For the past thirty-five years Fred Sandback has been creating barely-there yarn installations that exist somewhere between object and line, sculpture and drawing. The thin fuzzy line of Sandback's yarn is chock-full of an art-historical spatial discourse that connects his work to both Alberto Giacometti and Barnett Newman, who seem to provide some of the groundwork for Sandback—as do Karl Ioganson's “Constructions” in wire and string, though those lines are resolutely unfuzzy. (Sandback's prints, not on view here, bear a striking resemblance to Ioganson's drawings.)

Sandback's current exhibition comprises six site-specific yarn constructions and three recent wooden reliefs interspersed throughout the U-shaped space of the Chinati Foundation's temporary gallery (all works Untitled). Across from the entrance in the northeast corner is a large yellow tilted triangle stretched between two walls and the floor, effectively stitching together the space inside the triangle, the space of the room, two windows on the east wall, and the desert visible outside. A well-orchestrated weaving together of space, form, and movement, this piece is a microcosm of the exhibition as a whole. (The show's title, “Sculpture,” could refer to the exhibition as a single installation.) One of the highlights, located in the western portion of the gallery (the bottom of the U), is a construction of four sky blue strings pulled taut and level across the surfaces of the four walls, creating a fragmented interior horizon. The lines are placed at varying heights, seemingly at the levels of the landscape outside as seen through the glass doors on the western wall and the eastern windows at the ends of the U. It is as if Sandback has drawn the desert landscape into the gallery. Similarly, along a wall looking into the courtyard is a dashed line of gray yarn placed at the height of the windowsills, composed of eight parts interrupted by six windows and a door, sewing together interior and exterior.

In the three reliefs, a series of criss-crossing diagonal lines are routed into the smooth surface of painted wood panels; these are reminiscent of Lyubov Popova's “Spatial-Power Constructions,” rectangular wooden panels with painted diagonals in similar arrangements. The reliefs appear small and isolated in the gallery. Sandback describes them as the negative equivalent of the yarn, but they come across as a weak secondary response, lacking the subject/site relationship of the yarn constructions.

Mostly what is on view is space—the space in the gallery, the space outside. The space frames the sculpture, and the sculpture frames the space. The situation is like a unifying somatic field condition, in which inside and outside become inseparable. The string constructions are something you look at, through, into, and around, while also moving through and around them. The yarn that keeps these ever-changing spatial relationships in precarious tension sometimes seems to disappear or float and at other times looks like the edges of a solid piece of glass. While walking through the gallery I started to wonder if Sandback's use of yarn is a sort of bad joke, literally stitching space together; once those knitting associations start it's hard to stop them (Ariadne's thread and so on).

“The work is ‘about’ any number of things, but ‘being in a place’ would be right up there on the list,” Sandback writes in Remarks on my sculpture 1966–86. This in itself may not be particularly radical given the terms of post-'60s art production, but Sandback's singular success is that he collapses the Cartesian cogito of inner and outer with a simple piece of string.

Michael Meredith