(1943 – 1978), United States

Gordon Matta-Clark Biography

Gordon Matta-Clark is legendary for his carefully planned chainsaw 'mutilations' that exposed the 'innards' of about-to-be-demolished buildings in New York, Chicago, Genoa, and Paris, as well as the films that he made with friends documenting these projects.

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Early Life

Matta-Clark was the son of Roberto Matta, the Chilean painter associated with Surrealism and early Abstract Expressionism. Teeny Duchamp, the second wife of Marcel Duchamp, was Gordon's godmother. Because of the bravura and ambition of his unusual projects, he is very influential and seen as an energetic daredevil guerrilla activist fighting against gentrification, property developer greed, and corporate waste.

Tertiary Education

Over 1962—1968 Matta-Clark studied architecture at Cornell University, researching the notion of 'anarchitecure' and guided by modernist architecture theorist Colin Rowe. Matta-Clark was adept in film, photography, collage, video, bookmaking, drawing, and performance, as well as community projects like running FOOD, a restaurant for artists and their friends.

Matta-Clark was part of a close community of party-loving artists, musicians, dancers, architects, and carpenters, documented in the film Open House (1972). The projects this group organised make them pioneers in relational aesthetics and potent anti-capitalist, anti-property developer, anti-waste, pro-recycling activists. Their political ideas were once radical, but now, 50 years later, they have become mainstream.

Gordon Matta-Clark Artworks

In 1969 Gordon Matta-Clark helped Dennis Oppenheim participate in Cornell's pioneer Earth Art exhibition by cutting a swathe across a frozen lake to make Beebe Lake Ice Cut. The social experience was a powerful introduction to the avantgarde. He met Robert Smithson, whom he came to admire for his ideas on landscape and entropy.

In 1970 he built Garbage Wall, a means of recycling compressed detritus to provide shelter for the homeless.

'Unbuilding' Through Building 'Cuts'

Matta-Clark is most known for his clever use of chainsaws and weightbearing jacks in the mid-1970s to remove triangles of wall in order to make a series of deconstructive 'anarchitectural' installations that ran counter to the High Modernist ideology of city planners like Le Corbusier, whom his father once worked for.

Matta-Clark opposed those values, being anti-function and against Le Corbiser's assertion that buildings were 'machines for living in'. His activities subverted the utopian ethos of a grand civic plan. His carefully calculated 'anarchistic' modifications of condemned buildings—seeming vandalism—split them open or exposed their interiors though huge spiralling holes, celebrating a new type of beauty.

Matta-Clark's films and photographs show the light flooding in through the penetrated planes to reveal the normally hidden floor, roof, and wall framing structures. Sometimes huge, cut-out slices of house facades become portable exhibitable sculpture. See, for example, Bingo (1974), Splitting (1974), and Conical Intersect (1975).

Other works were much more subtle and avoided spectacle, such as Reality Properties: Fake Estates, "Jamaica Curb," Block 10142, Lot 15 (1978), which was part of a series of urban land acquisitions comprised of small slivers of useless land bordering footpaths that were far too small to build on. These were made to satirise property ownership greed.

Matta-Clark died tragically young of pancreatic cancer.


Recent solo exhibitions include Line of Flight: Gordon Matta-Clark, Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), Montreal (2020); Material Thinking: Gordon Matta-Clark, CCA, Montreal (2019); Passing through Architecture: The 10 Years of Gordon Matta-Clark, The Power Station, Shanghai (2019); Gordon Matta-Clark: Mutation in Space, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (2018); Gordon Matta-Clark: You Are the Measure, Whitney Museum of American Art (2007); Gordon Matta-Clark: A Retrospective, MCA Chicago (1985).

Significant group exhibitions include Parallax, David Zwirner, Hong Kong (2020); FORTY, MoMA PSI, New York (2016); Arrivals, CCA, Montreal (2008); Open Systems: Rethinking Art c. 1970, Tate Modern, London (2005); Postmedia: Conceptual Photography in the Guggenheim Museum Collection, Guggenheim Museum (2000).


Gordon Matta-Clark's work is held in collections across the world, including the Gordon Matta-Clark Archive, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021

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