Gordon Matta-Clark was an American artist best known for his site-specific artworks he made in the 1970s.
Matta-Clark's parents were artists: Anne Clark, an American artist, and Roberto Matta, a Chilean Surrealist painter, of Basque, French and Spanish descent. He was the godson of Marcel Duchamp's wife, Teeny. His twin brother Sebastian, also an artist, committed suicide in 1976.
He did not practice as a conventional architect; he worked on what he referred to as "Anarchitecture". At the time of Matta-Clark's tenure at Cornell, the architecture program was guided in part by Colin Rowe, a preeminent architectural theorist of modernism.
In 1971 Matta-Clark, Carol Goodden, and Tina Girouard co-founded FOOD, a restaurant in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood; 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 until 1973.
In the early 1970s and in the context of his artistic community surrounding FOOD, Matta-Clark developed the idea of "anarchitecture" - a conflation of the words anarchy and architecture - to suggest an interest in voids, gaps, and leftover spaces.
With his project Fake Estates, Matta-Clark addressed these issues of non-sites by purchasing at auction 15 leftover and unusably small slivers of land in Queens and Staten Island, New York, for $25–$75 a plot. He documented them through photographs, maps, bureaucratic records and deeds, and spoke and wrote about them - but was not able to occupy these residual elements of zoning irregularities in any other way.
Matta-Clark was part of a loose but close-knit coalition of artists and dancers whose work and lives coalesced around the large lofts left over from an earlier industrial age in New York’s Soho.
When Jeffrey Lew, a friend of Matta-Clark, opened up 112 Greene Street in October 1970, it immediately became what would now be called an alternative artist-run exhibition space. Before that 112 Greene Street was simply a place where artists could display their works for an audience of friends, and it was in this crumbling space that Matta-Clark installed his work Walls Paper in 1972.
For Walls Paper, Matta-Clark spent several months shooting such walls in the South Bronx and Lower East Side. After printing the color images on newspaper, he then assembled them in a book or hung them on the wall like swaths of detached wallpaper. The fragility and impermanence of the newsprint was not by chance; the work remains one of his most powerful, a subtle homage to structures that are long gone, not unlike his ephemeral building cuts.
In the spring of 1974, Gordon Matta-Clark approached his dealers, Holly and Horace Solomon, and asked whether they knew of a house that he could cut in half. As it happened, they had recently purchased an empty, soon to be demolished house, 322 Humphrey Street in the suburb of Englewood, New Jersey – they were interested in the underlying lot rather than the building itself. As the house was going to be pulled down, the Solomons let Matta-Clark work on it for a few months prior to its destruction.
Having enlisted the knowledge and help of the German-born artist Manfred Hecht, Matta-Clark jacked up one end of the frame, including one of the porches, removed a layer of cinder blocks, and cut through the entire side of the building – inside and out – with a Sawzall. Gradually he lowered the back of the building onto the remaining blocks, leaving a gap in the cut of about two-thirds of a metre at the top that tapered to a slit at the base. He called this work Splitting.
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.
For his final major project, Circus or The Caribbean Orange (1978), Matta-Clark made circle cuts in the walls and floors of a townhouse next-door to the first Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, building (237 East Ontario Street), thus altering the space entirely.
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