Gordon Matta-Clark was a radical artist who was enmeshed in the tiny world of avant garde art in seventies New York. He was young, broke and wildly dare devil and would climb into condemned and dangerous buildings in the Bronx and Lower East Side, using a chainsaw to remove large sections of the floors and walls. As well as being interesting to look at, these chunks reveal the history of the building and demonstrate the neglect of the authorities. Dennis Oppenheim called them ‘exorcisms’.
Pier 52 was a huge nineteenth century building on the Hudson River. Matta-Clark thought that it looked like a Christian basilica.. He cut out a huge ovoid, reminiscent of a medieval rose window, on the façade fronting the water. Sun and light flooded in. Day’s End was perhaps the most perfect achievement of his aim to convert a building into a ‘state of mind’. In this exhibition we can watch the whole process take shape in the film which has been remastered from the original footage (image 2)
There is a floor devoted to his wonderful drawings, some of which have never to my knowledge been shown before. We are told that they relate to his interest in creating ‘breathing cities’ (image 3). Perhaps the best is a pure explosion of energy (image 4). He also recognised the dynamic quality in the graffiti of the city and took a lot of photographs.
So much of Matta-Clark’s work was ahead of its time. His greatest achievement can be summarised as bringing the outside world directly into the gallery. As did Robert Smithson, clearly an artist he admired. Both of them died at the age of thirty five and both of them left a rich seam of ideas, which were extensively mined by subsequent generations.
Perhaps Smithson’s was the most substantial, to some extent because of his brilliant articles. Gordon never wrote anything, although there are several interviews in which he explained his ideas with verve and precision.
The museum quality of this show though will surely help to put him right up there, where he belongs – in the canon of those who contributed something radically new in that amazingly productive time.
Gordon Matta-Clark: Works 1970-1978 is at David Zwirner 24 Grafton Street, W1 until 20 December.