Pioneering radical activist and anarchistic artist Gordon Matta-Clark turned the discipline of architecture on its head by creating monumental-scale interventions on historic New York buildings in the 1970s.
The son of artists Robert Matta and Anna Clark, Gordon Matta-Clark was born in New York City in 1943 and studied architecture at Cornell University in 1968, although he never practised the discipline. Instead, his seminal artworks took architecture as their subject matter as a way to analyse the built environment and literally “get under the skin” of discipline so as to augment spaces, and in turn, push us to consider their meaning and significance. At the time he realised most of his works, the city crumbled before his eyes and was in a state of urban decay. When Matta-Clark cut a hole through the floor of a Bronx tenement (Bronx Floor: Boston Road, 1973, Bronx Floors: Threshold, 1972 and Bronx Floor: Floor Hole, 1972), he did so to call attention to society’s failure to provide adequate housing. Politics of place, the social impact of buildings and their inhabitants, or as he documented, an absence of inhabitants, featured extensively in his works. In Day’s End (Pier 52), 1975, Matta-Clark created one of his most iconic and important works that turned an abandoned Hudson pier warehouse into a “sun-and-water temple.” During the summer of 1975, he made a series of large cuts into the 600-foot long metal hangar on Pier 52, exposing the river and sky to create an ever-changing sculpture of light in a disused building.
In New York, audiences visiting The Bronx Museum of the Arts are invited to revisit and reconsider through an extensive survey of over 100 works, including photographs, films, drawings, sculptures and archival documentation, Matta-Clark’s oeuvre as an important contribution to art-architecture discourses entwined with the performative. His works reveal domestic and private spaces as public, and explorations of the city as a field of action. What does it mean to split a building or make cuts through it? To turn inside out and expose the decays of capitalism and the role of an artist-architect in this critique? To answer this, co-curator of the exhibition (and also co-director of the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark) Jessamyn Fiore says “Gordon Matta-Clark believed that art could change the world for the better, and he strove to make work that could empower people. Even though he passed away in 1978, every question he raised is still relevant to us living in New York City today. The exhibition seeks to extend the conversation Gordon began: how do we live in our city and how do we evolve it?”
Forty years after his death, the impact of his multifaceted oeuvre lives on as he contributed significantly to deconstructing architecture’s finality by experimenting with ephemeral qualities of the urban environment. Calling these transformations “Anarchitecture,” Matta-Clark extensively documented his mark-making in New York through films, photographs, drawings and reclaimed sculpture. Matta-Clark made over 20 films documenting his architectural explorations and interventions, and these have had profound influences on contemporary artists including Matthew Barney, Pierre Huyghe and Rachel Whiteread.
Featured image: Gordon Matta-Clark and Gerry Hovagimyan working on Conical Intersect, 1975, Harry Gruyaert © 2017 Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and David Zwirner, New York.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Curriculum Vitae #44, pages 225-228.