Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect
November 8, 2017 to April 8, 2018
Bronx Museum of the Arts
By Craig Lee
In an unexpected but deft move, Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect at the Bronx Museum of Arts (November 8, 2017 to April 8, 2018) begins in the lobby above the XM Café — a partnership with Fountain House, a community program supporting people with mental illness. Upon entering the museum, accessible to all through the free admission policy, visitors turn and see an open seating area filled with tables and chairs with the café’s food and beverage service counter against the back wall. Above, where one might find a menu display board, instead is the introductory wall panel for the exhibition. Rather than providing a comprehensive survey of Gordon Matta-Clark’s too brief (he died of pancreatic cancer in 1978 at 35 years of age), but prolific and influential creative practice in the 1970s, the exhibition is tightly organized around a handful of key projects and explorations.
Founded by Matta-Clark and artist Carol Gooden, along with artists Tina Goirouard, Suzanne Harris, and Rachel Lew, among others who contributed to the construction, menu planning, cooking, and meal service, Food opened on September 25, 1971 in a renovated commercial space and former luncheonette at the corner of Prince and Wooster Streets in SoHo. In gutting the interior walls to create an open-plan kitchen and dining room, it also marked the first instance of Matta-Clark’s well-known practice of architectural cutting and displaying the removed physical fragment in the gallery (in this case nearby at 112 Greene Street), an art object in the form of spolia and social critique. While short-lived, closing in June 1973, Food contained many of the key ideas that characterized Matta-Clark’s boundary-breaking practice between art, architecture, and our experience of them: the critical appreciation of derelict, neglected sites through physical intervention; an exploratory, innovative approach to the documentation of conceptual ideas and ephemeral work; and enacting social change through deliberate acts to develop, even redevelop, communities.
The final gallery presents the ideas established in Bronx Floors and Graffiti — incisive architectural incisions and a critical, expanded attention to the urban vernacular — by gathering three larger-scale and more familiar works. Photographs, sketches, and, most prominently, a film visualize Conical Intersect (1975) and Day’s End (1975), two monumental architectural interventions in Paris and New York, respectively. The site-specific French work consisted of carving a cone through two seventeenth-century row houses, exposing their interiors before their ultimate demolition to accommodate the Centre Pompidou, urban planning by tabula rasa methods. In downtown Manhattan, Matta-Clark cut-out several geometric openings into an abandoned warehouse on the no-longer extant Pier 52 on the Hudson River, but a site in the Meatpacking District now opposite the Whitney Museum of American Art. The films, each around twenty minutes, are especially illuminating. They document the work and labor required to alter each structure, a process revealing new spaces, views, and light. In the course of watching, each film offers a meditation about the larger dynamics of urban change at that moment, but also push contemplation into how these areas have transformed, for better or worse, through art and culture in the ensuing decades. Walls and Wallspaper (1972) are the third major work, Matta-Clark’s photographic documentation of former interior now exterior party walls exposed from the partial demolition of buildings in the South Bronx. In addition to several black and white photographs highlighting the lush material and textural contrasts, the showstopper is an entire gallery wall set aside for Wallspaper. The installation, Matta-Clark’s Walls photographs, but now colored, printed on newsprint, and arranged en masse, calls into question hierarchies of value at scales ranging from the reproduced image to urban planning reform efforts.
Craig Lee is a PhD candidate at the University of Delaware, and an Andrew W. Mellon Predoctoral Fellow in Museum Education at the Museum of the City of New York.