Matta-Clark: Reshaping Urbanity

Matta-Clark: Reshaping Urbanity

Renowned for radical urban interventions, Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978) saw 1970s New York as a site for visual experimentation and social commentary. Anarchitect, a retrospective of a short but incendiary career, is currently on show at Jeu de Paume, Paris, having opened at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, late last year. The title is a term of his own making: taking a playful approach to language, coining phrases to reflect upon Matta-Clark’s wider practice.

The exhibition is co-curated by Sergio Bessa and Jessamyn Fiore, the daughter of Matta-Clark’s widow, Jane Crawford, who meticulously compiled his archive after his death at the age of just 35. It draws on this fascinating body of material, which includes family correspondence as well as drawings, film reels, audio, working papers and more, to offer a comprehensive account of his critique of modernist urbanism.

Perhaps best-known for making “cuts” in the built environment – Matta-Clark sawed and sculpted openings into derelict buildings. At the time, these provided a subversive reminder that the city was in dire need of transformation. Works such as Bronx Floors (1972–1973) show what lies beneath the surface, allowing audiences to explore the city in greater detail. In addition to undermining the vocabulary of modulation and repetition that characterised modernist architecture, Matta-Clark also recognised the growing tendency toward public interaction exemplified by the proliferation of graffiti. Countering the bleakness of urban sprawl, graffiti became a means of expression for youth everywhere to rebel against conformity and ultimately the authority of the architect.

Matta-Clark’s practice, however, extends much further than structural intervention: through projects such as Food (a counter-cultural restaurant and meeting place founded in 1971), he played a crucial role in building communities from the grassroots.  Jeu de Paume celebrate the legacy of such a visionary, foregrounding his work as fundamentally constructive: both materially, in terms of what was built, and conceptually, through the critical but hopeful eye cast on the future.

5 June – 23 September. Find out more here.

Anna Feintuck

1. Gordon Matta Clark Conical Insect (1975). Courtesy of Galerie Marian Goodman Gallery.