The Power Station of Art hosts the exhibition Passing Through Architecture: The 10 Years of Gordon Matta-Clark, one of the most celebrated artists of the twentieth-century. Yet he often talked about the fact that his work could never simply sit in an exhibition. As a trained architect, he preferred to work through the walls of spaces than to put work onto walls. Walls were his artistic medium.
Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978) is best known for his “cuttings” and reflections on “anarchitecture.” Starting in New York’s downtown SoHo district in the early 1970s, he cut into buildings as if drawing freely in space, producing some of the most celebrated artworks that continue to inspire generations of artists and architects today.
As the first large-scale exhibition of Matta-Clark’s work in China, Passing Through Architecture: The 10 Years of Gordon Matta-Clark traces the remarkable thinking and avant-garde works of this interdisciplinary artist from 1968 to 1978 with more than 400 drawings, photo-works, films and archival documents. It aims to examine Matta-Clark’s relentless exploration of topics like architecture, space, biology and ecology; to question the nature of architecture, the natural environment, and human life beyond the scope of architecture 50 years after the artist’s return to New York, and to rethink the multi-faceted legacy left by modernist urban planning ideas.
In the same spirit of Gordon Matta-Clark’s cuts, curator Mark Wigley has organized the exhibition along a thin diagonal cut—with every 4.3 meters hosting a year of Matta-Clark’s work. It is a 3D time line inhabited by visitors to the museum, who can decide what are the relationships between the work from the same years or between different years or between different media. In fact, it is four exhibitions experienced in parallel: 120 drawings; 60 photo-works; 7 films; and 200 documents from the archives of the artist.
All work is visible from any point and there is no prescribed path. The visitors explore parallel chronological displays that all focus on Matta-Clark’s building cuts, rather than his other works of cooking, performance, poetry, publication, and collaboration with others—each of which could be a compelling exhibition in its own right. “This is just a slice of Matta-Clark, a slice through his slices.”, Wigley states.
Notably, this exhibition displays for the first time around 180 drawings and sketches that Matta-Clark never showed during his lifetime, his private explorations. His delicate drawings of trees, cacti, arrows, and energy configurations were an in-depth study of the organic world and the movements of energy that morphed into remarkable sketches of architectural interventions that the artist imagined but never carried out. This hidden world reveals a remarkable counterpart to the groundbreaking work that has made Matta-Clark one of the most admired artists of the 20th-century.
“The point here is to demonstrate that the canonized Matta-Clark that plays such an important role in the contemporary understanding of art is just the tip of an iceberg and the work of understanding the work has only just begun—despite all the exhibitions and publications about the artist and the decades of work by other artists, architects, and critics that has been inspired by it.”, Wigley says.
In 1968, Matta-Clark graduated from Cornell University’s Department of Architecture and returned to his birthplace of New York City, which was undergoing a post-war “urban renewal plan” and an overall economic transformation. Many old buildings faced demolition, slums were razed, ethnic minorities expelled, and a large number of people were left homeless, while the white middle class moved away from the inner city. The urban decay prompted Matta-Clark to devote himself to a series of practices that criticized modernist urban planning and created temporary communities and autonomous spaces, as well as housing and living programs for the poor.
Matta-Clark’s renowned «cuttings» began in 1971. He physically sliced open and dissected buildings, defamiliarizing them into giant inhabitable sculptures with a haunting beauty that he captured in films and photo-works. He began by cutting small rectangular holes into the floors and walls of abandoned buildings in the Bronx, New York. The cuts grew steadily bigger in size and complexity. By late 1973 he cut through a whole building for the first time to produce the A W-Hole House. In the following year, Matta-Clark completed his most famous work Splitting by cutting an abandoned home in New Jersey in half and leaning one half back a little. A few months later, in his work Bingo/Ninths, he cut the façade of a house in Niagara Falls, New York, into nine rectangles so that it resembled a bingo game card, and then gradually removed each one in turn until only one remained.
In 1975, he illegally trespassed into an old warehouse at Pier 52 on the Hudson River in New York where he made a series of cuts, including a huge half-moon-shaped hole in the end wall. Sunlight reflecting on the water entered the building through the hole, weaving the poetic narrative of Day’s End, which would be regarded as one of his most spectacular and controversial works.
That same year, Matta-Clark was invited by the Paris Biennale to cut two neighboring 17th century buildings that were facing demolition to make way for the construction of the Pompidou Centre. He connected and cut through the two buildings by means of the Conical Intersect, a cone-shaped cut up an angle that allowed passers by to glimpse up and through the normally hidden complex structure behind the façade. His final building cut, Circus: The Carribean Orange, completed in Chicago when the artist was suffering with cancer shortly before his death, was perhaps the most dramatic of all. Matta-Clark described cutting buildings as a kind of theatrical performance that attempted to reveal the fragility and instability of the buildings we inhabit, as well as the complexities and hidden life they embody. He tried to show that buildings are all already filled with holes and secret lives long before he intervened.
“It is remarkable that Matta-Clark only produced art for ten years between 1968 and 1978 but became a key protagonist in the history of twentieth-century art, required reading for every art student and a treasured part of major collections throughout the world. Nothing in this exhibition is from those collections. Everything has been selected from the estate of the artist maintained by the artist’s widow, Jane Crawford, and the extensive Matta-Clark archive held at the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal.”, according to the curator.
This first exhibition of Matta-Clark in China does not bring a long-perfected image of a canonic figure from the so-called West, but a set of questions about Matta-Clark—questions about the questions he kept asking of architecture and with architecture. It shows one artist’s relentless ten years of obsessive, rigorous and precisely theorized exploration of just two or three key concepts that transform our understanding of the built and natural environments we inhabit. Yet it also shows the astonishing array of experiments and artworks that resulted from this singular obsession. If those transformative concepts about space, ecology and equality were energizing questions for Matta-Clark, they remain so for us 50 years later.
The exhibition was curated by the renowned architecture historian Mark Wigley and is a continuation of PSA’s themed program “Architecture & City” Exhibitions and Researches. It aims to examine Matta-Clark’s relentless exploration of topics like architecture, space, biology and ecology; to question the nature of architecture, the natural environment, and human life beyond the scope of architecture 50 years after the artist’s return to New York, and to rethink the multi-faceted legacy left by modernist urban planning ideas.
PASSING THROUGH ARCHITECTURE: THE 10 YEARS OF GORDON MATTA-CLARK
Curator: Mark Wigley | Scenography Consultant: Li Hu
Power Station of Art, 678 Miaojiang Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai, China
November 7th, 2019 – February 16th, 2020