STREET now open! Chicago | Los Angeles | Miami | New York | San Francisco | Santa Fe
Amsterdam | Berlin | Brussels | London | Paris | São Paulo | Toronto | China | India | Worldwide
Gordon Matta-Clark
Galerie Thomas Schulte
Charlottenstraße 24, D-10117 Berlin, Germany
April 5, 2014 - May 17, 2014

Documenting Impermanence: The Films of Gordon Matta-Clark
by Guy Parker

“Why hang things on a wall when the wall itself is so much more a challenging medium?”  —Gordon Matta-Clark

With the term conceptual art so much a part of our everyday language these days it’s sometimes possible to forget what motivated the early conceptual artists to adopt it.

One of the key objectives of conceptual art was to subvert the artwork as a singular unique object, a fetishized commodity suited to ownership and trade. A painted image can be owned, assigned value, but what about the idea of an image, the mere concept of its production?

Much of what Gordon Matta-Clark made in the name of art is, physically, non-existent. In many cases all that remain are films and filmed performances, many of which you can currently see at Galerie Thomas Schulte, where a total of eighteen films are being shown simultaneously on screens hung around the space like canvases.

The idea of art as an ephemeral transient moment runs throughout the works. In cases such as Fresh Kill (1972)—a film documenting the destruction of the artist’s pick-up truck (punning Auto-Destructive Art?) that might have been inspirational to Mark Pauline and the industrial mayhem of Survival Research Laboratories—the very moment of its creation was shared with that of its demise. Bingo (1974) captures the moment when the outer wall of a house is sliced into geometric segments and removed, revealing its interior. The finished work was destroyed just hours after its completion.

Gordon Matta-Clarke, Installation view of Films at Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin, April 5 – May 17, 2014; Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin


Matta-Clark was interested in interrogating the perceived permanence and integrity of buildings and structures. The material of his work is a mixture of the ruggedly physical—bricks, walls, steel, beams, structure/infrastructure—and the transient and ethereal—voids, performances, soft structures like ropes and nets, an afternoon in the sauna, a plate of food. With his architectural training and a pro-situ approach to unleashing the potential of the city he worked with existing buildings as a sculptural medium, creating a sort of urban Land Art of hacked structures.

Matta-Clark worked secretly for two months in a warehouse on an abandoned New York pier, searching for “the beach beneath the paving stones” to create a “sun and water temple.” A large semicircular section of the pier’s cavernous iron shell was removed to suggest something like a vast camera obscura. The process is documented in the film Day’s End (1975): as light breaks into the darkness of the warehouse interior the result is something like a breathtaking indoor solar eclipse. City officials were less impressed at the time and sued the artist for criminal damage.

Matta-Clark also was a great lover of food and saw cooking as a sort of alchemical process. He began turning eats into art by frying Polaroids and ritually spit roasting a pig beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. He went on to open Food, a Soho restaurant run by his artist and performance friends which can be seen in the 1972 film of the same name. Matta-Clark’s signature dish was bone soup. The skeletal remains were scrubbed by a waiter and strung onto necklaces for the diner to wear home.

There are a great many stories, anecdotes and myths about Matta-Clark. Just as his art exists without the object, myths exist in the air and proliferate without making demands of material evidence. As such they could be seen as part of his oeuvre and legacy, and in the tradition of folk art.

A personal favorite is that in 1976 he came to Berlin with a plan to blow up a section of the Berlin Wall. There’s scant information available on just how serious he was or whether he had carried out any research or preparation.

Matta-Clark was a daredevil; he seemed to have a thing for heights, clambering around dangerous buildings and hanging suspended on ropes. Something of a performer, a show-off even, with a desire to prove how easily the impossible could be achieved. In the same year as his Berlin visit he shot out the windows of the New York Institute for Architecture and Urban studies with an air rifle. Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine the explosive demolition of a structure like the Berlin Wall, crawling with armed guards, was ever intended to go beyond the conceptual. The mythographers would have you believe otherwise.

Gordon Matta-Clarke, Installation view of Films at Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin, April 5 – May 17, 2014; Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin


Apparently he was talked out of the project by friends and instead performed an action at the wall which was filmed and has recently been edited and given a soundtrack. The Wall (1976) is somewhat less like a Steven Seagal movie than the original idea might have looked but a fascinating time capsule nonetheless. There's some early billboard détournement, graffiti, stencilling and a telling-off from a mutton-chopped West Berlin cop. The wall itself looks intimidating and photogenic as ever (there's not a Thierry Noir piece in sight but Stewart Home's observation that the wall itself can be viewed as a piece of conceptual art in the tradition of Christo's Running Fence might spring to mind).

Gordon Matta-Clark: architectural school dropout and rebel, avant-garde chef and restaurateur, urban explorer, choreographer of happenings, proto-street artist, radical urban planner, vandal and prankster. If you find any of the above of interest seek out his films or better yet go and see them all at once at Galerie Thomas Schulte. But make haste, they won't be there forever.


Guy Parker 



(Image on top: Gordon Matta-Clark, Installation view including Office Baroque with Eric Convents and Roger Steylaerts, 1977-2005, 44 min, b&w and color, sound, 16 mm film on video; Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin)

Posted by Guy Parker on 4/16 | tags: graffiti/street-art performance video-art detournement Berlin Wall architecture

Related articles:

Hans Richter
Niederkirchnerstraße 7, DE-10963 Berlin, Germany
March 27, 2014 - June 30, 2014

Were the Dadaists Time Travellers? and other questions I’d like to ask Hans Richter
by Guy Parker

The movie camera – that bastard son of a thousand alchemists, illusionists, inventors, and old showmen – could have been purpose built for the Dadaists and the Surrealists. If it had slipped into obscurity or been written off as gimmick after they had made use of it, its journey into existence could have been said to be worthwhile. It's as if their paths were always destined to cross.

In the Hans Richter show Encounters – "From Dada till today" at Martin-Gropius-Bau you can see the very genesis of avant-garde film. Richter, a painter who moved in Cubist and Dada circles was pursuing a language of abstract imagery with Swedish artist Viking Eggeling. Taking inspiration from musical scores they developed a system of painting across long scrolls as a means of demonstrating progressive sequences and rhythms. When these ideas led to experiments with film they were released from the inertia of the canvas, given flight, and realized through the manipulation of time and form.

The Dadaists are remembered as provocative image makers with a penchant for shock and stark, arresting juxtaposition, but the intention of Richter and Eggeling was to discover and develop a system of communication that would promote universal peace and understanding. Sadly they did not: the premiere screening of Richter's Rhythmus 21 (1921) outraged its audience to the point that they seized the accompanying pianist and dealt him a severe beating.

Hans Richter, Fuge 23 (Fugue 23), 1923/1976, Screen print on fabric, 61 x 344.2 cm; Private collection © Estate Hans Richter Foto © Museum Associates/LACMA


How must it feel to be so ahead of your time? Equally exhilarating and frustrating, I would imagine – as every time traveller seems to discover the future can prove violent and alien when experienced prematurely.

The rigorous research and preparation that went into those early efforts is presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition. On inspection one could argue that this is not only the birth of a new genre of film but a foreshadowing of technologies not yet discovered. These films appear to have been more programmed than scripted, the graphic language as au fait to a computer coder as to a Structuralist filmmaker. In his 1976 essay on Computer Generated Art, Malcolm Le Grice cites these films as forebears of the then emergent genre.

Richter plays with time again with Vormittagsspuk (Ghosts before Breakfast) (1928), using stop motion to bring to life objects – the everyday trappings of bourgeois life: bowler hats, clocks and bow ties – making them conspire against and confound their masters. The original soundtrack by Paul Hindemith was destroyed by the Nazis, but the film survived to become a classic of its kind and evidence of Richter's early drift towards more Surreal imagery. Far from hindering the film, the destruction of the original soundtrack has meant that it has been re-imagined time and time again. The original production’s improvisational spirit lives on and recent scores have been created by artists including The Real Tuesday Weld, Ian Gardiner, and Steve Roden.


Hans Richter, Sergei Eisenstein, and Man Ray, Paris, 1929; © Estate Hans Richter © 2013 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris


There's more than just film here. There's painting, photography, sculpture, and architecture. There are a number of Richter's early Visionary Portraits created in the golden hour of dusk, when the light was fading and the brightly coloured oils could be barely differentiated on the canvas, taking shape "before the inner eye rather than the outer eye." There are many examples of work by Richter's friends and contemporaries.

The exhibition has made its way from Los Angeles to Berlin painting a picture of Richter as a versatile, industrious man who applied sensitivity, political awareness, and an eye for new approaches in almost everything he did and was a part of. Equally artist, filmmaker, innovator, theorist, and teacher, he was also a great collaborator. His list of friends and associates reads like a who's who of twentieth century avant-garde: Cabaret Voltaire, Marcel Duchamp, Sergei Eisenstein, Man Ray through to Jonas Mekas and John Cage.

Richter also seems like a man blessed with serendipity, something that he fed into his work throughout his long career. His luck included narrowly escaping death by friendly fire in the first World War, meeting Eggeling and discovering film, evading prison and the clutch of the Nazis, finding new friends and prospects in exile, etc, etc. Always one step ahead of the game, he never seemed to miss an opportunity, took everything that life could throw at him and poured it into his art with rigor.


Guy Parker 



(Image on top: Hans Richter, Vormittagsspuk, 1928, black and white, 35mm film, ca. 7 min; © Estate Hans Richter)

Posted by Guy Parker on 4/2 | tags: photography surrealism sculpture painting architecture dada film

Related articles:

Group Exhibition
HAU Hebbel am Ufer
Stresemannstr. 29 , 10963 Berlin, Germany
April 4, 2014 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM

Withdrawal Symptoms: Public Space, Capital, and Boycotting the Biennales
by Sonja Hornung, Richard Pettifer

On Friday, April 4th, a conversation about Art in the Public Sphere was held at HAU, Berlin, between Alice Creischer, Oliver Marchart, Simon Sheikh, Sarah Vanhee, and Joanna Warsza, moderated by Helmut Draxler. The evening was a part of HAU's Phantasm and Politics series, and discussion revolved around the upcoming Manifesta in St Petersburg.

Afterwards, we had our own conversation.

RICHARD PETTIFER: Having to pay €8 for a discussion about public space is the perfect ironic summary of what was discussed on stage. Increasingly, what is “public” is defined by capital, and sapped of its potential.

SONJA HORNUNG: I wanted us to go so we could write on it! But doesn't this draw out a strange dilemma that emerges, when faced with the option of withdrawal? Either engage, and retain some sort of voice in the dialogue, or withdraw, and risk being excluded and silenced.

RP: I was charged for a ticket to discuss the relationship between art and public space—a discussion that must surely happen in public. In attending, my political voice was subsumed into a system of dialogue that becomes an aesthetic item through its separation from the public.

There is no reason why art should not look for concrete ways to intervene, and maybe the upcoming Manifesta will do this. But Friday night certainly didn't intervene in squat.

SH:The relationship between art and public space is a fractured one. But it is not just a case of art colonizing and aesthetizising politics (as some critics of the Berlin Biennale, for example, would have it). There are a range of complex positions and they are context-dependent. For example, in Sydney, a number of artists threatened to withdraw their work from the Biennale due to commercial links between its primary sponsor and the offshore processing of refugees. In Istanbul, Fulya Erdemci withdrew her Biennale from the public spaces of Istanbul due to the tense situation generated by the Taksim protests. And in the upcoming Manifesta in St Petersburg, local artist collective Chto Delat? have recently withdrawn in solidarity with Ukraine. Curator-in-chief Kaspar König defended the right of art to autonomy from political discourse, but meanwhile, the Kiev Biennale itself has been postponed indefinitely.

These responses to political pressures on the biennale system have one thing in common—artists are requested to use the publicity created by the institution to interrogate the values of the institution. This makes the institution appear open to critique, open to public dialogue, open to democracy in its broadest sense. Should we be suspicious about this?

HAU 2; Photo ©Marcus Lieberenz / Courtesy Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin


RP: For me the whole conversation about whether to withdraw or not becomes invalid when the conditions of entering the dialogue itself are the contradiction.

What you're talking about is a kind of false permissiveness or liberalism from biennales. It says “you can do anything you want,” but meanwhile, capital is taking away basic freedoms. This is basically my concern with placing too much focus on public space—it's just symbolic distraction from capital crisis. You can have a very liberal public space where you can do anything, but that is totally pointless if half of the people sleep in it because they don’t have homes.

SH: So in your view, a discussion about public space, or even about art, shifts the narrative away from the real issue at stake: the hegemony of capital. Perhaps you're right. The reason for protest always boils down to capital. Gezi Park was a protest over a proposed capital development. The Ukraine crisis was caused by that government backing away from a free trade agreement with the EU. The Occupy protests happened in the context of the Global Financial Crisis, and the Sydney Biennale debacle emerged due to its corporate structure.

However, all of these events become visible in public dialogue, in public space, don't they? Not just physical spaces, but also figurative ones, or spaces online, where conflict can be played out in dialogue and resistence can be built.

RP: But a contradiction is present here. As Oliver Marchart said, on one hand there is a multiplicity of public spaces, and on the other hand this idea of an “audience with the King.” In the first case, the creation of a public space is possible anywhere; in the second, grievances can only be aired under the permission of the ruler. I am much more likely to favor the latter as an illustration of contemporary political life because it says something active, whereas the first is a meditative statement. However in both cases artists/citizens/scholars are free to do whatever they like as long as they don't interfere with the capital frame. This suggests simply that in order to be effective, art should do just that—especially in a time of capital crisis.

SH: I was also interested in Oliver's definition of the public as “an audience with the King,” to me a play on Kaspar König's authoritarian position as King of the Manifesta, in all its autonomous glory. An audience with the King never occurs on equal terms. If you reject this inequality and wish to build a different modus operandi, you need to withdraw and create an alternative, and that alternative can only be built in public space, whether this space is physical or figurative.

Let's look at Sydney, for example. Some sort of artificial wall maintained between art and its political and commercial context has been broken, which means that every conversation about the Biennale (and every media report) has to also be seen in terms of the withdrawals and Australia’s horrendous refugee policy. Art that addresses political questions within the institutional framework remains somehow safe, even if it bleeds into the public spaces of the city (as happens in every Sydney Biennale, as will happen in St Petersburg). But withdrawal opens the frame out to public scrutiny; it creates public space. It forces us to recognize that the causes for inequalities have a name and an address, as Alice Creischer puts it.

Of course Sydney is an entirely different context to St Petersburg, and the parallels can only be pushed so far. But I was wondering whether you might consider it possible to see the withdrawal of Chto Delat?, for example, as a vital way to keep the Manifesta public—or to keep the public public?

CHTO DELAT?,The Tower: a Songspiel, 2010, single channel video, color + sound, 36:51 minutes, video still, edition of 10; Courtesy of the artists and Postmasters Gallery, New York


RP: Of those examples mentioned, Gezi is the only one where the cause of the protests can perhaps be considered a matter of public space. The others (Euromaidan, Occupy, Sydney) are directly responding to capital situations. And even in the case of Gezi, it was a heavily capitalized commercial project, so it's arguable whether people were there for the space, or capital, or both.

SH: I beg to differ—in the case of Gezi, capital interests were impeding on public space. Occupy and Euromaidan were efforts to claim public space as a platform to fight against its repression. I would read the Sydney Biennale in terms of an attempt to hold public conversation about immigration policies that the public no longer have a say in, that are controlled by double-barreled national and commercial interests. Calls to reclaim public space, whether by artists or activists, are a means to redress this situation.

Look at the self-imposed closure of the refugees' occupation on Oranienplatz in the middle of Berlin. As we write, the last of the refugees who have occupied the site for over one year have “vertically withdrawn,” and climbed a tree. They are surrounded by police and a fence, and until very recently were denied food, water, and blankets. Up there is the last bit of public space in Oranienplatz, but even here, this withdrawal is forcing people to talk, to take notice. You can't ignore a person who is hunger-striking in a tree.

RP: You're right about withdrawals affecting the dialogue, but again this doesn't address the capital—it just addresses the dialogue. There's little point in tarnishing the brand of the Sydney Biennale if the ensuing dialogue effectively quashes change. This is a matter of the form or quality of the dialogue—how it is said is more important than the content. We talk about “withdrawal” as if it is a simple action that universally means the same thing, but there are many different ways to withdraw, and they mean different things. Withdrawing is a positive action. It creates something more than just a space for public debate. What should be looked at in the case of Sydney is not what is not there (“the proposed artworks”) but what was created—the press releases, the empty spaces. Dialogue is only a small part of that.

In the case of Manifesta, there would seem to be very few ways it might be helpful to the situation in Russia and the territorial invasion of Ukraine, which began with the capital situation of the failed EU free trade agreement. Addressing that now would not be helpful. Now it would be more helpful to address Ukraine's flailing economy which is in a directly vulnerable position. For example, there have been people in Euromaidan protesting in sub-zero temperatures for four months. What about them? And where are we at with this free trade agreement now? Will living standards in Ukraine improve?

Or was the only result of the protests to jettison a much-loved piece of territory and four months' wages?

What will make or break Manifesta will probably be its ability to address these issues in a concrete way.

Here is a satirical fantasy version of how insulting this potentially is: an event at Manifesta called Art in the East after Euromaidan: a dialogue/intervention that charges €8 entry.

SH: This very conversation we are having now will become, on ArtSlant, an aestheticization of political issues.

RP: Depends on the readers.


Sonja Hornung, Richard Pettifer




(Image on top: CHTO DELAT?,The Tower: a Songspiel, 2010, single channel video, color + sound, 36:51 minutes, video still, edition of 10; Courtesy of the artists and Postmasters Gallery, New York)


Posted by Sonja Hornung, Richard Pettifer on 4/11 | tags: withdrawal symptoms istanbul Russia Manifesta Sydney Biennale biennale dialogue public space politics

Related articles:

The suggestion is that ticketing the event made it an aesthetic object - which made the dialogue meaningless.
20140407005756-lenin_c What does it mean?
"In attending, my political voice was subsumed into a system of dialogue that becomes an aesthetic item through its separation from the public." I don't think any dictator would want to censure this statement, because no one has any idea what this statement means.

Print print this page

Copyright © 2006-2013 by ArtSlant, Inc. All images and content remain the © of their rightful owners.