30 October 2009

Surrealistic Home

Matta-Clark's origins in the practice of Surrealism are extensive and expansive. His father, Roberto Matta, was one of the foremost 20th Century practitioners of this mode of expression. His godfather was Marcel Duchamp with whom the family maintained close relations. His introduction to the artistic avant-garde began from his birth. In this portrait of Gordon as a baby, he's held up beside Alberto Giacometti's Hands Holding the Void (1935) as if his life would be inspired by the spirit of that same void.

Bingo involved the removal of sections of the side of a suburban home based upon a nine-square grid. Matta-Clark's hands drawing and sectioning the design over a photograph of the house is featured in his film entitled Bingo X Ninths (9:40 minute, Super-8, color, silent, 1974). This approach to applying geometry to architecture functions on multiple levels. Architects would certainly recognize the use of a nine square grid as a standard organizational device. His modernist influenced architectural training at Cornell University would have certainly touched upon this mode of geometrical subdivision and could be considered a tool of the elitist architect.

While Matta-Clark was likely highly conscious of this association to the traditional practice of architecture, but in particular its association with modernism and its application of abstract grids over the urban fabric. In a way, Bingo references this practice by demonstrating physically and metaphorically how the existing fabric of a community can be directly removed and erased. By using structures slated for demolition, he's effectively commenting on the tabula rasa approach employed in so many urban renewal projects.

Simultaneously, Matta-Clark is referencing the gridded form of a bingo card, a common form in the life of American suburban culture. In slicing the wall of this home in rectangular sections he reveals the inner life of the home, exposing it to the voyeuristic eye implemented of the camera (still and moving).

His sectioning of the facade drawn on a photograph is transferred to the building site itself and he removes one section after another, leaving the center in place. The apparently floating, unsupported slab of the wall is further detached from the house when a section of the staircase itself is removed.

The cantilevered portion of the central remaining portion of the facade suggests several interpretations. First, it brings to mind the modernist trope of suspending architectural elements in the air that appear to float in space. The manner in which half of the wood staircase was removed further isolates this element. Matta-Clark was conscious of the structural conditions and incorporated them into his "virtual board game." The potentially dangerous game he plays with seeing how far he can go removing elements of the structure without incurring a collapse is a significant factor in appreciating the layout, planning and execution of the incisions.

Where a board game is played on the flat horizontal surface, Matta-Clark creates a sort of billboard-like architectural analogue to game playing. A further connection with play is the tradition in the game of Bingo of providing a central red square as a free space.

A text panel in the film documenting the project explains that the removal of panels was accomplished one hour prior to the house's demolition. The end of the film features a bulldozer destroying the house in its entirety leaving the site a void.

Following is a video presenting the installation of a section of Bingo being installed at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in October 2009.

Sculpting Architecture: Buildings as Raw Material

Gordon Matta-Clark took his education in architecture and his lifelong experiences of cutting-edge concept in art and created previously unknown methods and procedures for enacting limited, but highly specific modifications to existing building fabric.

He began his inquiry using abandoned buildings around the New York metropolitan area, claiming such structures as his raw material for a new manner of sculpture, something he termed Anarchitecture. A good example of this practice were his work entitled Bronx Floors: Thresholes of 1972. This intervention is discussed in an article on the Tate Museum's website, "Towards Anarchitecture: Gordon Matta-Clark and Le Corbusier" by James Attlee.

He and an assistant entered an abandoned tenement building in the Bronx and selectively removed sections of floor. In the example illustrated, you can see he created a literal "hole" in the floor where one would normally expect a threshold. Matta-Clark loved to play with words and language to extract the maximum referents from his statements. The pun is further emphasized in Matta-Clark's documentation of this ephemeral work by emphasizing the potential danger such an opening represents. In the image looking down at the floor, a dog stares into the void.

In the view looking upward, a figure strides through the doorway and over the gap. His cuts penetrate the floor, wood joists, lath and plaster revealing the construction materials and assembly normally hidden from view. The figure steps from the new edge, reaches for the door knob opening from one room to the next. The expectation of a solid support is undermined creating both psychological and potentially physical danger. Matta-Clark effects a radical experience of space and structure, subverting our fundamental confidence in the integrity and continuity of the floor itself.

Matta-Clark extracts the maximum artistic results from his minimal interventions, seeing the actual modifications to the building as a performance, interacting with these new openings, and exhibiting selected chunks of material removed during the course of his excavation into the man-made "earth". Presenting the physical section in the gallery along with photographs of its origin allows viewers the opportunity to contemplate the process of removal and creates a visual and conceptual framework for understanding a piece of urban archaeology.

29 October 2009

Gordon Matta-Clark arrives in Saint Louis

During the 1960s, Gordon Matta (son of Surrealist painter Roberto Matta (1911-2002) and artist Anne Clark) attended Cornell University's School of Architecture. At the time, the school was under the influence of architectural theorist and historian Colin Rowe who had his own unique view of modernism. The school was strongly in the formalist modern camp. Graduates from the 1950s included figures like Richard Meier and Peter Eisenman. The line of inquiry developed by the so-called 'Neo-Modernists' was a significant element within the school's pedagogy.

Gordon Matta-Clark. Photograph of Matta-Clark
where his hair has been sectioned off through the use
of a grid, each section being tied and marked to it's
corresponding grid. Photograph documenting Hair (1972).

Gordon Clark doesn't appear to have been particularly impressed with the formalist, abstract, conceptual paradigm in the which the school operated. He ultimately completed his degree in 1968 with Dean's List commendation. However, his future as an artist seems to have been influenced heavily by his studies in art history and sculpture. Toward the end of his tenure in Ithaca, the Johnson Art Museum at Cornell held an exhibition of "Earth Art" including installations by Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim and other significant figures in the burgeoning movement. Such work has also been referred to as Land Art.

Gordon Matta-Clark. Photograph from
documenting Hair (1972).

Clark assisted in creating Dennis Oppenheim's project which involved making a long, linear "cut" in the ice on Beebe Lake adjacent to campus. The physical act of cutting an abstract geometrical figure into a fundamentally irregular natural formation is a principal method employed in Earth Art. It seems Clark's later use of cuts into the fabric of building undergoing a process of decay stemmed from his experience performing such a cut under extreme physical and psychological stresses (for example, the freezing weather and the danger of breaking through the relatively thin ice) was strongly influenced by his experiences in assisting in the creation and performance of Oppenheim's work. A similar Oppenheim project cut into ice naturally formed ice was his Boundary Split of 1968.

27 October 2009

Gordon Matta-Clark at The Pulitzer !

The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts will host the opening reception for its new exhibition, Urban Alchemy/Gordon Matta-Clark on Friday 30 October from 5 to 9pm.

Gordon Matta-Clark. View of Splitting.
322 Humphrey Street, Englewood, New Jersey (1974).

Saturday 31 October (from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm) will be the first full day the Gordon Matta-Clark exhibition will be open to the public. Please attend the opening on Friday. It may well prove to be the event of the year in the Saint Louis art community.