In his 1941 book Space, Time, and Architecture, Sigfried Giedion argued that modernism was distinctive for its use of the void as a positive element. No artist exemplifies this better than Fred Sandback, who spent 35 years making sculptures virtually without mass or volume, but as lines in space.
This work began in 1967, while Sandback was earning his M.F.A. in sculpture at Yale. The example of visiting artists Donald Judd and Robert Morris helped him reject the ideal constructivist forms of Naum Gabo (whom Sandback had also met) and articulate real space by stretching elastic cords across parts of rooms. Perhaps he was responding to Michael Fried's 1967 essay "Art and Objecthood," which criticized minimalist objects for seeming hollow despite their bulk; perhaps he was inspired by the openness of Morris' steel-mesh sculptures, which Fried had ignored. In any case, Sandback began using hollowness itself to create almost palpable shapes. Soon he moved from elastic cord to acrylic yarn, which allowed him to explore color and span greater distances, achieving a desired unboundedness through the use of boundaries alone.
Untitled (Gray Corner Construction) is one of Sandback's earliest extant works and his first to enter the Gallery's collection. While many of his pieces have decayed—something he anticipated with detailed diagrams and instructions for refabrication and installation—this work did not, partly because it remained undisturbed for many years in the private home for which it was commissioned. The only installation requirement, apart from a specific height, is a right-angled corner, which may seem surprising given that the steel angles at top and bottom are obtuse. Thus the virtual solid made by the work is an irregular one, reflecting Sandback's desire to question spatial experience rather than affirm known geometries.
Sandback not only steered a determined course between minimalism and conceptual art, but also extended the modern sculptural tradition of drawing in space that the Gallery's major works by Alexander Calder and David Smith exemplify. From a mere corner, this remarkable work has the power to transform an entire room.
Marks and Labels
Commissioned from the artist and purchased 1968 through (Dwan Gallery, New York) by private collection, New York; purchased 2009 by (Zwirner & Wirth, New York); sold 9 July 2009 to NGA.
- Fred Sandback, Zwirner & Wirth, New York, 2009, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Cooper, Harry. "Fred Sandback, Untitled (Gray Corner Construction)." Bulletin / National Gallery of Art, no. 42 (Spring 2010): 20-21, repro.