Sledgehammer in hand, the intrepid artist and ‘anarchitect’ embarked on a perilous odyssey of urban deconstruction – clearing a path for generations to come before his death aged 35
Bare-chested and swinging high on a suspended platform in the vast interior space of a derelict steel-trussed warehouse on a New York pier, Gordon Matta-Clark, acetylene torch in hand, cut into the walls, the floors and the roof, letting the light in. Along with the sparks raining from his torch, the light cascaded from the sky through the building’s empty void to the water beneath. Arcs of light moved with the sun’s passage through the day. The camera filming all this is alternately dazzled and consumed by mysterious gloom. Hidden then exposed, Matta-Clark is glimpsed hard at work, oblivious to the height and the danger, swaying on his little platform.
For three months in
1975the artist worked, unseen and illegally, in the warehouse. Used by the homeless and by junkies, it was best known for its gay bacchanals on Manhattan’s west-side shore. Now, the pier sits in the shadow of the new Whitney Museum, the whole neighbourhood cleaned up for consumerism and for tourism.
A new exhibition of his career at David Zwirner’s London gallery includes Day’s End, one of several grainy, halting black-and-white films of Matta-Clark’s performative, sometimes illicit and invariably perilous adventures. In perhaps his most famous work, Splitting, from the previous year, we see him cutting through a typical suburban house in New Jersey. The house had been bought as an investment by gallerists Holly and Horace
Solomon,but had then been scheduled for demolition as part of an urban renewal scheme. Matta-Clark sawed two parallel cuts, an inch apart, through the exterior and interior walls, the window frames, the roof, floors, staircases and banisters. Sunlight spilledthrough the gap on to the lawn. Further angled cuts between the ground floor and the stone footings allowed one half of the building to be tilted but remain standing.