texts 1995 interview

1995 Interview by Kimberly Davenport


Fred Sandback 

A work—one of mine—is on its one side, a reflection of, or a locus for, my various needs and desires to see things one way or the other. It must hold these things in focus. On its other side, it does the same thing for someone else—the viewer or participant. It is animated by one or both of us. In the main, it is our terms, as maker and user, which are significant, and the terms of the work of art “on its own” may be less important. Maybe you can even throw it away. I do often enough. When an exhibition is over, as often as not in recent years, its physical remains go into the wastebasket to be supplanted by fresh materials at a later date perhaps. 

In my case what are the terms of this interface, the work of art? Are they the instructions that I leave behind with it? Not for me. If I am called upon to re-create or reinstall a piece, I do regard this as a re-creating process and would certainly not let myself be hung up on something I wrote down about it last week or last year. I would take whatever liberties I could get away with—I say that because at some point, a curator is liable to say, “But that’s not our piece at all.” Things change, but there are limits. So I guess I would expect a curator acting in my place to exercise the same freedom. There are all these microtonal or atmospheric aspects of a piece that are what make it vital for me at a certain moment, but that defy qualification. So the curator is stuck with her/his role as interpreter. She has to add the grace notes. 

An aside to this—maybe I’m wrong and maybe this is a hopeless romanticism of significance. I don’t think so. Interpret you must. That is what keeps something alive. Playing period music on period instruments contributes to keeping period music dead (not always).

In these comments, I’ve been thinking about them as referring to the part of my work that is more actively bound to the environment. Other things I’ve made are more like a painting—hang it on a nail and there you are. 

Who should be the primary source in determining how a work should look over time? Well, sure, I should be. This is my game and I want it played my way. But the question becomes interesting as I begin to fade out of the picture. Behind me I leave a de facto canon of how I have done things over time. But this will never be enough to run things. A curator will re-create a piece because she wants to, and it is this will that drives the re-creation, finally, not the remnants of my will. Of course, her will may run the gamut from attempts at historical correctness to taking impossible liberties. I like the latter end of the spectrum better, lately. 

Should my wishes regarding re-creation and continuity be taken as unarguable facts? Of course, but that will never be enough to drive the machine. Particularly since I am more interested in the now of things than the then. When a piece is done, I am inclined to move on and disregard it. This shifts more of the responsibility to the curator. Should her interest be concentric with mine as defined? Unavoidably, yes and no. My center of interest will never be adequate. 

For better or worse, my wishes for a piece are so bound up to my being there with it at the moment of its coming into being that I can only imagine the curator becoming embroiled in a similar sort of situation in her re-creation of the piece. In that area her wishes then have priority. It is that sort of dynamic that I think I would like to see. My model, I think, is the musical score, though I admit that the idea of a “brilliant rendition of an early Sandback” sounds pretty loony. To the extent, though, that my script involves taking into account things beyond the simple physical limits of the sculpture, I suppose that the curator’s may have to as well. Intervene in the normal aging process? In my case? There is not much that is holy about a ball of yarn. Throw it out. Get a new one. I get a lot of resistance when I display this attitude. When do you decide that the artwork is no longer carrying the ideas? I think rather that the work of art is an idea. Over time, it may become a different idea. Is it my responsibility to communicate information about my process and intention? This is hard. This work is my process and intention. Only viewed from the future is it an artifact. Whether that artifact will be animated by another’s process and intention depends on them, not me. 

This text was edited from a telephone interview with the artist and first published in Kimberly Davenport, “Impossible Liberties: Contemporary Artists on the Life of their Work over Time,” Art Journal 54, no. 2 (Summer 1995), pp. 40–52.


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