The American Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–1978), son of surrealist painter Roberto Matta, grew up in New York and Paris, and graduated as an architect in the 1960s. At the Cornell School of Architecture he got to know artists like Chris Burden and Dennis Oppenheim as well as land art artist Robert Smithson, who was a close collaborator.
The early 1970s saw Matta-Clark embark on an intense period of work in various artistic media, including drawing, sculpture, photography, film and performance. At this time he also staged sociopolitical happenings and embarked on his radical architectural interventions.
It was primarily through his “cutting works”, including Splitting (1974), Day’s End (1975), Conical Intersect (1975) and Office Baroque (1977), that Matta-Clark made his name. He split derelict buildings earmarked for demolition, sawed sections out of the structure of the building and thus exposed its innards. He himself described these interventions as “anarchitecture” – a type of anarchic approach to architecture.
Since most of the buildings were demolished shortly afterwards, none of these works were preserved. What remained were architectural fragments such as Sauna (1971) and Lock Out (1973), wall sections the artist cut out of the building and which are now viewed as sculptural objects in their own right. Sauna was Matta-Clark’s first cutting work, and was created at 28 East Fourth Street, New York, when he cut a sauna into pieces down the middle. He had previously invited his friends to the sauna and filmed them (Sauna View, 1971).
What remains of Matta-Clark’s cutting-works are drawings, photographs, photocollages, films and videos. These are much more than mere documentary material, and represent an important component of his work. His films in particular, which capture the working process, are of key importance, allowing the best way into the group of cutting works.
Along with the photographs, photocollages and sculptural segments from the cutting works, the most striking feature of the exhibition is the large number of drawings and sketches which were shown at the most comprehensive exhibition on this subject so far, held three years ago at the Generali Foundation in Vienna and at P.S.1 in New York in 1998.
Apart from the drawings he made in the run-up to his major projects, the “cut drawings” done in his latter years are Matta-Clark’s most important contribution to this medium. Since he used cutting as a drawing technique, in approach they come closest to his anarchitectural works and projects.
Matta-Clark was also one of the first artists to develop an interest in the graffiti art which became widespread in New York in the seventies. The signs and symbols which recur in graffiti were for the artist a mirror of social conditions in the city, and as such resonated with his sociopolitical concerns. Out of this emerged two series of black and white photos depicting graffiti on walls and subway cars. He lined up these hand-coloured photographs in long images called “Photoglyphs” (1973).
The Fresh Air Cart, a small vehicle on four wheels equipped with two seats and a tank of “pure” air (79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen) was Matta-Clark’s statement against air pollution. He set it up in 1972 during a performance in New York’s Wall Street District, and let passers-by breathe “clean” air through masks.
Even though an untimely death cut short his creative career, Matta-Clark was enormously productive and created an oeuvre of great diversity.
Thanks to the wide variety of the media he chose, the sociopolitical and psychological implications of his work, its relevance to urban development issues and, not least, its humour, Matta-Clark’s oeuvre reached a very broad audience.
Along with the sculptures Sauna (1971), Fresh Air Cart (1972) and Lock Out (1973), the exhibition features a whole series of photographs relating to various cutting works, including Office Baroque (1977), Cooper’s Cut (1974) and Circus or The Caribbean Orange (1978), as well as a number of Matta-Clark’s cut drawings.
The exhibition also focuses on the graffiti photographs, including the two long Photoglyphs.
A selection of films featuring Gordon Matta-Clark’s interventions will be shown on two evenings (January 25 and February 1). Jane Crawford will give an introductory talk to the second film evening.
The exhibition was created in collaboration with the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York, and Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin.