Gordon Matta-Clark  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Gordon Matta-Clark (June 22 1943August 27 1978) was an American artist best known for his site-specific artworks he made in the 1970s. He is famous for his "building cuts," a series of works in abandoned buildings in which he variously removed sections of floors, ceilings, and walls. His last "building cut" was Office Baroque in Antwerp, Belgium. He referred to his work as “Anarchitecture.”

Life and Work

Both of Gordon Matta-Clark's parents were artists: the Chilean Surrealist painter Roberto Matta and American Anne Clark.

He studied architecture at Cornell University, but did not practice as a conventional architect; he worked on what he referred to as “Anarchitecture.” At the time of Matta-Clark's tenure there, Cornell's architecture program was guided in part by Colin Rowe, a preeminent architectural theorist of modernism. His vision of modernism later influenced much of Matta-Clark's own work in its relation to modernist practice and theory. He also spent a year studying French literature at the Sorbonne in Paris and was in Paris during the student strikes of May 1968. It was in Paris that he became aware of the French deconstructionist philosophers and Guy Debord and the Situationists. These cultural and political radicals developed the concept of détournement, or "the reuse of pre-existing artistic elements in a new ensemble." Such concepts would later inform his work. He is most famous for works that radically altered existing structures. His "building cuts" (in which, for example, a house is cut in half vertically) alter the perception of the building and its surrounding environment.

Matta-Clark used a number of media to document his work, including film, video, and photography. His work includes performance and recycling pieces, space and texture works, and his "building cuts."

Matta-Clark also used puns and other word games as a way to re-conceptualize preconditioned roles and relationships (of everything, from people to architecture). He demonstrates that the theory of entropy applies to language as well as to the physical world, and that language is not a neutral tool but a carrier for society's values and a vehicle for ideology.

"AN ARK KIT PUNCTURE, ANARCHY TORTURE, AN ARCTIC LECTURE, AN ORCHID TEXTURE, AN ART COLLECTOR..."

In February, 1969, the "Earth Art" show, curated by Willoughby Sharp at the invitation of Tom Leavitt, was realized at Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Matta-Clark, who lived in Ithaca at the time, was invited by Willoughby Sharp to help the artists in "Earth Art" with the on-site execution of their works for the exhibition. Sharp then encouraged Gordon Matta-Clark to move to New York City where Sharp continued to introduce him to members of the New York art world. Matta-Clark's work, Museum, at Klaus Kertess' Bykert Gallery, was listed and illustrated on pages 4-5 of Avalanche 1, Fall 1970.

In the early 1970s as part of the Anarchitecture group, Matta-Clark was interested in the idea of entropy, metamorphic gaps, and leftover/ambiguous space. Fake Estates was a project engaged with the issue of land ownership and the myth of the American dream - that everyone could become "landed gentry" by owning property. Matta-Clark "buys" into this dream by purchasing 15 leftover and unwanted properties in Manhattan for $25-$75 a plot. Ironically, these "estates" were unusable or unaccessible for development, and so his ability to capitalize on the land, and thus his ownership of them, existed virtually only on paper.

In 1971 Matta-Clark cofounded Food, in SoHo, New York, a restaurant managed and staffed by artists. The restaurant turned dining into an event with an open kitchen and exotic ingredients that celebrated cooking. The activities at Food helped delineate how the art community defined itself in downtown Manhattan. The first of its kind in SoHo, Food became well known among artists and was a central meeting-place for groups such as the Philip Glass Ensemble, Mabou Mines, and the dancers of Grand Union. He ran Food til 1973.

For the Biennale de Paris in 1975, he made the piece titled Conical Intersect by cutting a large cone-shaped hole through two townhouses dating from the 17th century in the market district known as Les Halles which were to be knocked down in order to construct the then-controversial Centre Georges Pompidou.

Matta-Clark died from pancreatic cancer on August 27, 1978.

Influences on Contemporary Artists

Matta-Clark's "cuts" inspired, among other contemporary artists, Brian Jungen, from British Columbia, Canada. Jungen recycles goods from a globalized consumer market and transforms them into objects that evoke a specific cultural tradition based in part on his Dunne-za First Nations background, as in his series "Prototypes of New Understanding."

Matta-Clark's excavation pieces and fascination for the underground also inspired Belgian performance artist Danny Devos in his piece "Diggin' for Gordon," in which Devos digs a hole at a secret location. The piece is visible to the audience only via a webcam.

Matta-Clark's public interventions such as his "cuts" can been seen as the precursor to Street installation.

Two years after his participation in the Biennale de Paris, He returned to Paris to film/photograph sites underneath the city streets. Descending Steps for Batan was the result of Matta-Clarks days of digging a narrow space deep into the earth beneath the floors of a Paris gallery.




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