‘I’d rather be in the middle of a situation than over on one side either looking in or looking out,’ reflects Sandback on his neglect of surface and solid forms in favour of minimalist lines. This idea could not be truer of the work recreated within the Victorian architecture of the newly refurbished Whitechapel Gallery. Declaring early on in his career a lack of interest in material or at least materiality alone, American sculptor Fred Sandback’s retrospective at Whitechapel illustrates the use of his trademark material, yarn, whilst presenting themselves as real life three-dimensional line drawings directly relating to their architectural environments.
Emerging from Yale School of Architecture and Art in the late sixties Sandback’s sculptures adhere to artist Frank Stella’s notion that in minimal art ‘What you see. Is what you see.’ Saying himself ‘my work just is what it is’ Sandback frequently requested exhibition spaces were stripped of all obstructions allowing us to indulge in his minimal creations.
With works spanning 1968 to 1991, Whitechapel Gallery traces Sandback’s experimentation with colour. His ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’ (a reference to Mondrian’s autonomous 1942 painting) includes a series of single strands of slightly fuzzy yarn aligned with immense precision each individually drilled directly into the floor and then again through the sky light of Gallery 2.
Leaving viewers constantly searching for the area between forms, the sculptures break up the gallery space into a series of undisclosed paths. A seven-part construction originally created in 1982 and remade to specifically fit Whitechapel includes black yarn triangular planes linking the floor area to the ceiling, inviting the visitor to walk through the space Sandback has created. The sensational contrast between the fragility of the material and vast large-scale sculpture is absorbing, engulfing the viewer into Sandback’s fascination with line, plane and lack of volume as they walk through the open space.
Supporting the installation Whitechapel Gallery has compiled archival original photographs of works, previous exhibition catalogues and drawings by Sandback with a focus on his exhibitions in London. These show how lines created with both yarn and pencil create a compelling parallel to space; a comparison Sandback made himself.
Chief curator of Whitechapel Gallery Achim Borchardt- Hume has produced a beautifully executed exhibition truly capturing the subtlety of Sandback’s work. Tiny inverted corner structures ironically made using the most solid material on show (spring steel) and coloured in fluorescent blue can be found hidden within the architecture. These are just small reminders of Sandback’s site-specific intervention of this gallery space.
This small exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery presents a captivating show of Sandback’s archetypal works, which undoubtedly encourages further exploration into the artists intriguing creations.
Whitechapel Gallery, E1 – Until 14 August