Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Other Sights of a Career: Gordon Matta-Clark at David Zwirner

Above and Below: Gordon Matta-Clark at David Zwirner

April 2 to May 4, 2013
519 West 19th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues
New York City, (212) 727-2070

The introduction to Gordon Matta-Clark’s 2007 Whitney retrospective catalog muses that “in many ways, an exhibition of [Matta-Clark’s] art is an oxymoron.” That’s not an inaccurate or infrequent assumption. An artist best known for his architectural modifications (called “cuts”) on now demolished structures, Matta-Clark exists to his contemporary audiences primarily through photographic documentation of his work. His enigmatic career also loses some of its tangibility because of its tragic brevity; Matta-Clark was active for less than a decade before he died from cancer at the age of 35. Still, the idea that Matta-Clark’s oeuvre is at odds with a traditional art exhibition—an idea that the Whitney ultimately flouted—overemphasizes the transitory quality of his work, at the expense of appreciating his cross-medium interest and foresight. Matta-Clark made sure to find multiple ways to present each of his projects, in part to give his ideas longevity through material. Lest we forget, he was the author of the vast body of photographs, films, drawings, artist books, and sculptural objects that serve as the base of his scholarship and these exhibitions.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect, 1975, Silver dye bleach print (Cibachrome), 40 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner Gallery.
Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect, 1975, Silver dye bleach print (Cibachrome), 40 x 30 inches. Courtesy of the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner Gallery.

David Zwirner’s current exhibition of Matta-Clark’s work, its fifth since taking on representation of the artist’s estate in 1998, is devoted to some of the understated parts of his career and goals. It presents work from the last four years of Matta-Clark’s life with a particular emphasis on his films and film-based photographic collages. The selection of work, according to curator Jessamyn Fiore, has been chosen to demonstrate the artist’s frequently overlooked idealism, and anticipate what would have been the new pursuits in his career. “At that point, he wanted to be known as more than the guy who cuts buildings in half,” Fiore said. “He was ready for the next thing.”

Above and Below follows Matta-Clark’s interest in the structural layering of cities, and architectural possibilities both above and below ground. The show’s title refers to the lateral theme that unites this particular selection of works, and the exhibition’s diminutive king pin: an eponymous photo diptych from 1977 featuring a topical and subterranean view of a city street. This work, coincidentally, doubles as a map for the exhibition’s layout. The first room is devoted to his works on and above street level, anchored by the iconic Conical Intersect (1975) and Office Baroque (1977)—in which Matta-Clark cut a series of tapering circles to create a monocular shape across two uninhabited seventeenth-century buildings near the Centres Georges Pompidou, and sawed concentric tear-shaped holes through five floors of an office building in Antwerp—are present in the form of photo collages made from disjointed and tunneling sequences of film frames. The next room features two black and white 16mm film projections, Substrait (Underground Dalies) (1976) and Sous-Sols de Paris (Paris Underground) (1977), which document the artist’s exploration of manmade underground tunnels. His expeditions took place in labyrinths that ranged broadly in use and historic origin, from the catacombs beneath Paris to the underbelly of Grand Central Station in New York. These works were markedly different from those in the preceding room, from earlier years, because they were envisioned as film projects in themselves, not as documents of an action or performance. The films and a number of drawings and sketches that offer context and alternate views of Matta-Clark’s formal interests, finely demonstrate a medium-specific dexterity and a mastery of both space and two-dimensional representation.

The exhibition then proceeds like a dialectical argument to rise up into the air with two lesser-known Matta-Clark works: An installation for Documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany, called Jacob’s Ladder (1977), a beautifully delicate aerial structure suspended fifteen feet off the ground, rendered all the more poignant when we learn that visitors were too afraid to use it, and a series of sketches for the never-realized Sky Hook (study for a balloon building) (1978), a network of houses that would float above an urban environment, buoyed by a city’s radiating heat. These two projects, envisioned in the final two years of Matta-Clark’s life, perhaps best articulate the show’s thesis by suggesting the artist’s positivist vision of urbanism and architecture. It underscores a sometimes neglected but hopeful notion, that Matta-Clark left Cornell University not having forsaken architecture as a practice, but in search of new approaches to constructing spaces for society.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Jacob’s Ladder, 1977, Silver dye bleach print (Cibachrome), 39 3/4 x 30 inches. Courtesy of The Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner Gallery.
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Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect, 1975.  Still, 16mm film transfer, 18:40 minutes, silent. Courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery
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Gordon Matta-Clark, Office Baroque, 1977 Chromogenic prints, Triptych Each: 20 x 40 inches. Courtesy of The Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner Gallery.
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Additional Programs:

Guided tour with curator Jessamyn Fiore. David Zwirner (519 West 19th Street, New York) on Saturday April 20, 11:30 AM. RSVP required, contact Jill Smith ( or 212-727-2070 x 100).

World premier screening of Sous-sols de Paris (1977) and Q&A with curator Jessamyn Fiore, and filmmakers Jane Crawford and Robert Fiore. Anthology Film Archives (32 Second Avenue, New York) on Sunday, April 21, 7:30 PM.

A tribute to FOOD, the legendary SoHo restaurant opened in 1971 by Matta-Clark and Carol Goodden in collaboration with other artists. Frieze Projects at Frieze New York (Randall’s Island, New York), Friday May 10 to Monday May 13.