Here and Now: Fred Sandback
At the Henry Moore Institute, 74 The Headrow, Leeds until 28 February
Could an exhibition be made of more insubstantial means than Fred Sandback's at the Henry Moore Institute? If, that is, it were to retain a physical presence and not shrink to the conceptual realm of a text on the wall. An American, educated at Yale School of Art and Architecture, Sandback is little known in the uk but has exhibited internationally over the last 30 years. One imagines him getting off a plane with just the slimmest of suitcases in his hand but all he needs for a significant show.
Sandback's medium, chosen in the reductive climate of 1960s Minimalism, is coloured acrylic thread, with which he makes 'sculptures' that look like three-dimensional drawings. In recent years he has supplemented these thread works with wall-mounted wooden reliefs but hasn't over-burdened himself in the process; usually their little panels would fit into your pocket.
'My work touches on many things, but being in a place is the first on the list,' says Sandback. His sculptures always seek their form from the surrounding architecture. The thread is installed so as to outline a series of taut geometrical figures - rectangles, triangles, trapeziums (sometimes open, sometimes closed) - that underline or counterpoint characteristics of the space. A sense of illusion is paramount: for instance, a horizontal line stretched low on one wall and a parallel line on the floor in front of it appear to delimit an (invisible) inclined plane. Step over that line on the floor and you are 'inside' the sculpture.
Meanwhile the reliefs can be seen as an inversion of the thread works; the line no longer a (frail) physical fact but an incision in a solid wooden panel. They occupy much more of the gallery than their negligible dimensions would suggest. Excerpts from implied larger systems, their trajectories extend beyond the panel's edge to meet the floor or ceiling or adjacent wall.
Two of Sandback's thread works in the current show, both rectangular figures part-bounded by parallel lines, are apt but unsurprising responses to the architecture of the Henry Moore Institute. The third, however, is ingenious in its articulation of the main gallery and adjoining smaller space beyond. It makes capital from a condition that (one suspects) few visitors to the institute usually notice - that the left-hand wall beyond the entrance to the small gallery is set back somewhat from that in the big room before it. Sandback outlines a huge tense triangle that, in the main room, apparently leans against the left-hand wall but, as it reaches its acutest angle deep in the neighbouring space, becomes abruptly free- standing.
It is a cross between a conjuring trick and a mathematical proof. Sandback - who, nomadically, will simply wind up these threads for recycling at the end of the show - might seem cool and cerebral but he is also something of a magician in the way that he transfigures empty space.