Gemeentemuseum Den Haag acquires first major Fred Sandback sculptures in the Netherlands


American artist Fred Sandback (1943-2003) made sculptures out of wire, cord and yarn. Once seen, they are never forgotten. He stretched colourful filaments of varying lengths between the ceilings, floors, walls and corners of his exhibition spaces to produce intangible sculptures that rely on the illusion of planes, volumes and mass. Influenced by practitioners of Minimal Art like Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt, Sandback made his mark on the art world even as a student in the 1960s. To date, no sculpture by Fred Sandback has featured in any Dutch collection. The untitled works now acquired by the Gemeentemuseum are the very first. The new acquisition has been purchased with the assistance of the Rembrandt Society and the Mondrian Fund. Dating from 1969 and 1988 respectively, they are both made of black, white and yellow acrylic yarn and are currently on show in the museum as part of its Complex Images exhibition. When that show closes, they will be given a place of honour in the museum’s permanent Discover the Modern presentation, alongside works by Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Lee Bontecou.

Sandback’s sculptures outline planes and volumes in space and have no ‘insides’. Although it was initially a passion for stringed instruments that led him to use wire and elastic cord, he soon dispensed with mass and weight and began using synthetic yarn to make works that address their physical surroundings. Sandback’s work reflects the intention of Minimal Art: because his sculptures enter into a relationship with the surrounding space, they make the visitor more aware of the place concerned. The power of the work resides in its ability to raise the viewer’s awareness not just of the sculpture and the space in which it exists, but also of the memory it creates. Precisely because they encompass empty space, Sandback’s sculptures continue to resonate powerfully in the mind.Director Benno Tempel feels that the purchase of the Sandback sculptures is a crucial enrichment of the Netherlands’ holdings of international art. “This country has long had a close relationship with Minimal Art. It was the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag that held Europe’s first ever Minimal Art exhibition in 1968. Minimal Art is therefore a significant presence in Dutch museums, but until now Sandback’s work has been unrepresented. Our otherwise excellent museum collections are unbalanced in this respect. So these sculptures are a marvellous acquisition both for this museum and for the Netherlands as a whole.”

The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is the ideal place to show Fred Sandback’s work. It is, after all, the holder of the greatest Mondrian collection in the world. The founding father of abstractionism was a major source of inspiration for many post-war American artists like Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Fred Sandback. Indeed, Sandback makes many allusions to Mondrian in his work. The filaments stretched parallel to the wall form a frame enclosing a void; this framing effect and the philosophical manner in which Sandback gives visual expression to the concept of emptiness are reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s line paintings. Moreover, just as Mondrian creates the impression that his paintings continue beyond the edges of the canvas, so Sandback plays with the illusion that his filaments pass through the walls to form new configurations on the other side.

Fred Sandback was born in Bronxville, New York, in 1949 and achieved rapid success. He studied Philosophy at Yale University and sculpture at the Yale School of Art, where he attended guest lectures by Donald Judd and other major artists. In 1968, while still a graduate student, he had two one-man shows in Germany. One of these was held at the Munich gallery of Heiner Friedrich, who was to co-found the Dia Art Foundation in New York in 1974. Although Sandback’s work is greatly admired by professionals, it is less well-known to the general public. Museum collections in the Netherlands have so far included only works on paper. Sandback is better represented in collections elsewhere in the world, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Since a number of his installations were placed on permanent display at Dia: Beacon in New York, his work has rapidly gained increasing popularity among the general public.