Born in 1943 in (United States)
Liste expositions


Gordon Matta-Clark (22nd June 1943 – 27th August 1978)

Gordon and his twin brother Sebastian were born of the brief union between Chilean painter Roberto Matta and American artist Anne Alpert née Clark, who separated just after their birth. The posthumous legend of Matta-Clark portrayed him as a daredevil and fugitive, however, he grew up in a well-off and cultivated milieu thanks to his father, with Marcel Duchamp as his godfather.

In 1962, he left his birthplace, New York, for Ithaca, to study architecture at Cornell University. As a former assistant to Le Corbusier, Matta senior considered architecture to be a fundamental and formative discipline. While his father's influence can be sensed in this choice, the political aspect was already a preoccupation for the young artist – architecture being seen as the means to abolish social differences.
Following a serious car accident, Gordon Matta interrupted his studies at Cornell in 1963, and left to study French literature at the Sorbonne, where he discovered French philosophers and Guy Debord's Situationism.

Back at Cornell, his 20th century art history professor opened the doors of his Victorian home to students for evening shows. Gordon Matta did his first performances there, in which inflatable structures progressively invaded the space, forcing the public to leave the premises. In 1968, after obtaining his degree, he organised a performance in homage to his very recently deceased godfather. Although no document of his first performances exists, as of 1969, photos, videos and many sketches were to document his approaches.
The decisive meeting with conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim took place for the preparation of an exhibition at the school's art gallery, just before his return to New York in 1969.
He was introduced into the New York artistic scene by Oppenheim's art dealer, and produced Photo-Fry for his first group exhibition. Within the gallery space, Matta fried photos in oil, which he would later post to his friends. The material transformation of the image in the fry pan evokes a black magic ritual, as though revealing a hidden image. This iconoclastic gesture announced his taste for the catering business, which became a reality with the opening of the restaurant Food, on 25th September 1971. An associative site established to help the artists operating in downtown Soho, Food, besides its role of selling food, was a meeting and performance place, manifesting Gordon's desire to break down the barriers between art and life. While attempting to sell the site as a work to gallery-owner Léo Castelli, Gordon Matta added his mother's maiden name to his own name, so as not to be associated with his father, in a sign of personal and professional detachment.

His first “cutting” took place in the sauna of his new loft, where he filmed his friends. He cut and extracted a fragment of this room, revealing the structure of the wall. He repeated this gesture in the restaurant, speaking of a sandwich while extracting a segment of the wall, thus revealing the hidden part of the structure.
In the same year, he travelled to Chilli with Jeffrey Lew, where he organised an exhibition at the Santiago Museum. There, he cut up the architecture, taking the natural lighting into account, which he would continue to do. A hole was dug from the men's bathroom in the basement through to the roof of the building. By placing mirrors at different angles, the sunlight reached the bottom, like an inversion of the space. "Undoing" is another very explicit name that he gave to "cutting", reflecting Jacques Derrida's contemporary notion of deconstruction.

In 1972, he began his series Bronx Floors, documented with photos. While physical risk had always been at stake in his work, Matta-Clark's legend began with this work undertaken in a clandestine manner in abandoned buildings in the Bronx, a very disreputable area at the time. These expeditions to cut holes in buildings were not only dangerous due to the cutting work weakening the structure of the building and the manipulation of massive blocks from the walls, but also because of the shady elements that frequented the area.

In 1973, the Anarchitecture group emerged, assembling a dozen people – including Laurie Anderson, Carol Goodden, Suzanne Harris and Jene Highstein – focusing on language games as well as construction and collective exhibitions, the first of which was held in 1974. According to Matta-Clark: “The group's architectural aim was more elusive than doing pieces that would demonstrate an alternative attitude to buildings.... We were thinking more about metaphoric voids, gaps, leftover spaces, places that were not developed…for example, the places where you stop to tie your shoelaces, places that are just interruptions in your daily movements.”*

Splitting (1974), arguably the most famous work, is a one-story house that has been completely cut in two, allowing a ray of light to pass through the interior. Photos allow us to see the play of light created by Matta-Clark, but also the interplay of construction/deconstruction devised for the building and presented in photo collages. A video retraces the full process, highlighting his interest for the manual aspect of this intervention. The house is a metaphor for society while also being an entirely discrete and singular object, which he seizes and transforms. The cutting gesture is considered liberating for the artist.
His work adopts an increasingly larger scale and in 1975, he appropriated a hangar on the piers of New York. The film Day's End retraces the cutting of the building on Pier 52. Still in relation to light, the openings of the building made it a "temple of sun and water", allowing views of the Hudson River and of plays of light on the floor and walls, which Matta-Clark likened to rose windows.
The story ended badly since he was prosecuted by the law, and left the United States for France, becoming a fugitive.

Upon his arrival in Paris, he pursued the exploration of circular forms in space inaugurated with Pier 52. Conical Intersect is a cut made in houses adjoining the construction site of the Georges Pompidou Centre, creating a viewing point over its construction. It was inspired by Anthony McCall's film Line Describing a Cone.
Matta-Clark's main idea in producing the cuts was to render the beauty of the space much more visible by exhibiting it and connecting it to the exterior, in opposition to sculptors, who fill space.

In 1976, his twin brother Sebastian committed suicide from the window of Gordon's loft. The artist was very affected by his death and created Jacob's Ladder in 1977 at the Documenta 6 in Kassel in homage to him.
The same year, he produced Office Baroque in an official building in Antwerp, where he developed his cutting principles on an entire building.
In 1978 he married Jane Crawford, knowing that he was already seriously ill. He died of cancer of the pancreas and liver on 27th August, after having experimented with parallel medicines from Jamaican doctors, renewing his interest in alternative cultures close to the land. He followed not long after his twin's death, who he was very close to, particularly in their conflictual relationship to their father. For some, this feeling of abandonment by this famous father was considered to be the origins of Gordon's passion for abandoned buildings. At the time of his death, Matta-Clark's work was yet to be discovered, namely the hundreds of drawings, photos and projects that would only be exhibited many years later. Some were visible for the first time at the You Are The Measure retrospective organised by the Whitney in 2007.

Patricia Maincent
Translated by Anna Knight
*interview by Liza Bear in Avalanche, December 1974