"...to convert a place into a state of mind"
Gordon Matta-Clark (New York, 1943-1978) is known for his striking and destructive treatment of buildings. Trained as an architect, in the seventies he started breaking open rooms in buildings scheduled for demoli tion. These spatial actions in derelict premises opened up a field of completely new possibilities for art. Gordon Matta-Clark treated architecture as space for living; the cultural and historical conditions which play such an important part in architecture were banished to the background. In his work, breaking open spaces is an exploit and by that token a metaphor for exposing social and ideological structures. Revealing the layers of a building was meant as an analysis of living and thinking space in urban culture, notably suburban and urban boxes as a context for insuring a passive, isolated consumer.
What Gordon Matta-Clark put up for discussion was not the function but the quality of living and building. He described this search for quality with the words to open a state of enclosure. The physical violence with which he opened up buildings is reminiscent of social liberation; drilling and sawing suggest ac tion. The innovative urge was much in evidence among American artists in the seventies. Each in his own demonstrative way left the closed space of the gallery, mounting ambitious projects in which personal involvement was an important element. The idea of forcefully demolishing derelict buildings for the purpose of literally and metaphorically exposing their foundations was a fitting activity in this optimistic, future-oriented climate. Take: Office Baroque (Antwerp, 1977), a project in a five-storey build ing. The holes piercing the roof, ceilings and walls were shaped like parts of a circle. A different hole was sawn on each storey. The openings penetrated the original structure, directing a beam of light through the building and illuminating dark, hitherto invisible parts. The building was rendered accessible: By undoing a building there are many aspects of social conditions against which I am gesturing: first to open a state of enclosure […] The Antwerp building has since been pulled down, but the photos and sawn-out remnants which go on exhibition bear witness to this 'undoing' project. Matta-Clark's projects have a theatrical char acter. The photo series capture a glimpse of drama. But there is an important difference between the execution of a project and its subsequent registration, posing the question of whether the photos and the 'sculptural remains' really convey the artist's destructive activities and the concomitant tug-of-war with the authorities so characteristic of his work. The reference to an act of liberation possessed a strength and directness that is con cealed in the aesthetic of the photograph. Nonetheless there is an analogy with the projects: I like the idea that the sacred photo-framing process is equally violable. Only the sculptural remains are silent witnesses of the artist's individual, explosive power.
Matta-Clark's work is represented in prominent public collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, Antwerp; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The Gordon Matta-Clark Archive is held at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, and includes the artist's personal correspondence, notebooks, drawings, photographs, slides, films, as well as other archival material documenting his life and work.