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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-Clark, 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-Clark, 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 4/16/14 | tags: graffiti/street-art performance video-art architecture Berlin Wall detournement

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