As a major figure on the American art scene of the 1970s, Gordon Matta-Clark is known above all for his spectacular ‘cuttings’ and dissections of abandoned buildings and edifices destined for demolition. He pierces façades, walls and ceilings in gigantic geometric figures which run through the work from one end to the other. Like nothing less than holes in the urban fabric, Matta-Clark’s acts set up, as Dan Graham explains, “a dialogue between art and architecture, on architecture’s turf”. Rather than building, putting together and stacking up, the artist removes pieces of walls in order to reveal, from the street, the building’s inner structure, and shatter its customary ratios of scale. Matta-Clark’s intent was to challenge and question the rigidity of man’s connections to his urban environment. The apertures which this architect by training started to make in the restaurant Food, at 127 Prince Street (in downtown Manhattan) in 1971, and then in the Bronx from 1972-73 onward, turned the buildings into dangerous and a-functional spaces henceforth defined by the dizzy liaison between floor and ceiling. By experiencing the resistance of materials in an almost Expressionist way, Matta-Clark anticipated not only the future destruction of a frame and an architectural shell, but also experimented with the principle of deconstructing the building’s very integrity. All that remains of his actions are films and photomontages: Splitting (1974), a cutting in two of a suburban American home, Conical Intersect (1975), a gigantic perforation four metres in diameter in a building located in the future Beaubourg neighbourhood (in Paris), and Office Baroque (1977), are all works based on the exposure of the strata which reveal “how a uniform surface is manufactured”, and the desire to transform “a static, marked out condition of architecture” into a destabilizing and dynamic experience of the building and the urban space.
Gordon Matta-Clark, son of the Surrealist painter Roberto Matta Echaurren, was born in the United States in 1943 and died prematurely in 1978. He studied architecture at Cornell University, and French literature at the Sorbonne in Paris for a year. To start with he was involved in performance (Agar, Museum, Incendiary Wafers, 1969; Garbage Wall (1970), and, from 1971 on, focused his oeuvre on in situ works. His work has been shown in many exhibitions in the United States, as well as in Paris at the Museum of Modern Art in 1974, in Berlin and Milan in 1975, in Düsseldorf in 1976, and in Chicago in 1978. He took part in several biennial events (Sao Paolo in 1971 and posthumously in Venice in 1980) and in Documenta VI in Kassel in 1977. Nadine Labedade