Review: “Decades” by Fred Sandback at David Zwirner

by Pac Pobric

Photos by Cathy Carver © 2012 Fred Sandback Archive; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.

Certain things about Fred Sandback’s work are abundantly clear. That his central concern was the possibility of pushing “drawing in space” to its most literal (or, in other words, to its most abstract) is plain enough to see. The open/closed dichotomy that Modern sculpture had begun to deconstruct with Picasso’s 1914 Guitar was blown wide open with Sandback’s yarn work.

Yet it did so only through a greater achievement: the articulation of a drawing-as-sculpture opposition pushed each to its limit, which is to say as far from one another as possible. The two-dimensional drawings that serve as “models” for Sandback’s three-dimensional work do so only ostensibly. As the artist noted in 1975:  “I don’t have an idea first and then find a way to express it. That happens all at once.”      

                  Photos by Cathy Carver © 2012 Fred Sandback Archive; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.    

The drawings in fact follow their own logic insofar as they are able to do what drawing cannot help but do: put figures in space.

None of the more “abstract” two-line drawings (as opposed to the “models” for sculptural work) shown at David Zwirner feature intersecting lines. There’s a good reason for that: it would simply flatten the image too much, whereas the goal of all drawing (and not only Sandback’s) is the elaboration of a form in space, however abstract. Especially because all these drawings feature only one color, an intersection would beg the question: which line crosses which? Because it would be impossible to answer, the point of intersection would be a point of flatness in otherwise illusionistic space. The result would be a confused image. 

                      Photos by Cathy Carver © 2012 Fred Sandback Archive; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York. 


With drawing trapped in two dimensions, Sandback’s sculpture does its work in three, carving the space which it intersects into perpetually shifting sections. More apparent in this exhibit than others, however, is Sandback’s relative inability to wrestle with color. The exclusive use of yellow or black in each drawing brings to bear the more varied use of colored yarn in the sculptures, but doesn’t do it any favors. Untitled (Sculptural Study, Twelve Part Vertical Construction) does in fact read as more of a study than a finished work. Its use of a pale yellow in tandem with black and a darkened blue betray that Sandback didn’t have a painter’s natural eye for color. If it’s a work in progress, one is left to imagine that the central question left unaddressed is how to more fully integrate the colors.

                    Photos by Cathy Carver © 2012 Fred Sandback Archive; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.

But color, in the end, is a principal issue only for painting, not for sculpture or drawing. That Sandback’s work entirely bypasses the problems of painting is probably made most clear by an untitled glass construction that is truly out of place in the exhibit. The work calls to mind Newman or Marden, but its diminutive size betrays its timidity in engaging with painting. Sandback’s best work was of a different order. His concern was for drawing, in two dimensions and three.

Share Button
This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


4 + = five

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>