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Fred Sandback, 59; Minimalist Sculptor

June 29, 2003|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Fred Sandback, a Minimalist sculptor whose sparse installations made of colored yarn, wire or string delighted art critics, died Monday in his New York City studio. He was 59.

His wife, Amy Baker Sandback, said her husband, who had suffered from depression for some time, committed suicide.

His early interest in stringed musical instruments led him to make dulcimers and banjos as a teenager. He said music was important to his work. At times he retreated to his grandfather's woodshed in New Hampshire and listened to recordings of cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

"It is as if you are inside the cello," he said of the resonant sound.

Also a maker of long bows and an expert archer, he once told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that he was fascinated by "anything with a twang."

Eventually, Sandback's attraction to strings and musical sounds found expression in his art. A typical Sandback sculpture might consist of several lengths of yarn extending from the floor or the wall to convey a sense of volume and bulk as if a full-bodied sculpture stood there. He once said his aim was to make sculpture with "no inside."

At times his work seemed closer to painting. Strings running parallel to a wall -- an inch or two away from the hard surface -- recalled the linear paintings of Piet Mondrian or Joseph Albers, who taught at Yale University when Sandback was an undergraduate there.

Sandback went on to the university's School of Art and Architecture, where prominent Minimalist sculptor Robert Morris was among the visiting artists who impressed him. After finishing art school in 1969, Sandback, a native of Bronxville, N.Y., moved to New York City.

Throughout the 1970s he exhibited his work at major contemporary galleries in Dusseldorf and Cologne, Germany, as well as in New York City.

He had several exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

When the Dia Art Foundation, which supports contemporary works, opened in New York City in the mid-1970s, Sandback was among the 12 artists represented, along with sculptors Donald Judd and Dan Flavin. In 1981, the foundation sponsored the Fred Sandback Museum, which opened in an abandoned bank in Winchendon, Mass.

"It was Dia's plan to open single-artist museums like Fred Sandback's for viewers to see the work in the ideal space," Lynne Cooke, curator for the Dia Foundation, told the Los Angeles Times this week.

But Sandback suggested closing his museum in 1996.

"It was a little hard at age 37 to start to have a place that was in some sense permanent," Sandback told Art in America magazine in May 1997 about his decision. "Not hard but a little peculiar, or at least premature, to start tending your own legacy."

He continued to work and exhibit throughout his life. Several of his sculptures were included in the opening this spring of the Dia Art Foundation's new gallery space, Dia/Beacon, in Beacon, N.Y.

Sandback is survived by his wife; a son and a daughter from a previous marriage; and two grandchildren.

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