Ar(t)chives Arts

Gordon Matta-Clark’s unique vision of urban space

American artist Gordon Matta-Clark is well known for his technique which involved cutting shapes into buildings

Gordon Matta-Clark was an American artist who specialized in architectural interventions and photography during the seventies. He is best recognized for his transformation of abandoned buildings through holes and shapes he cut in their walls and floors.

Matta-Clark’s conceptual art was based on his concerns and critique pertaining to the urban reality of New York. One of his first outdoor interventions, created in 1972, was titled Dumpster Duplex. The artwork was composed of an opened garbage dumpster with home furniture, walls and doors placed in it. This piece of art was featured in the neighborhood of SoHo in downtown Manhattan. Through this work, Matta-Clark critiqued housing challenges that the poorest communities of New York were facing at the time.

Matta-Clark also opened the restaurant Food in SoHo with artists Carol Goodden and Tina Girouard. This restaurant was a place where artists could gather to eat and work. Despite only being open from 1971 to 1973, Food is considered to be one of the first restaurants of the area. In terms of Matta-Clark’s work, this restaurant added to his process of investing in and rethinking urban space.

His vision was also transmitted through his Reality Properties: Fake Estates project. He bought 15 plots of land for prices ranging from 25 to 75 dollars between the years of 1973 and 1974. They were small and often unusable due to their location. The artist took pictures of the micro plots. He created collages combining the photographs, maps of the area and his property deeds. The project aimed to critique the unaffordability of real estate in New York.  While he visited most, Jane Crawford, Matta-Clark’s widow, explained that the artist never got the opportunity to see one of the plots he owned since it was surrounded by private buildings.

One of Matta-Clark’s best known projects, Splitting, highlights his iconic building cuts. These art interventions consisted of pieces of a built structure being taken off through strategic cuts with a chainsaw, which transformed buildings into a deconstructed space. The artist described his work as “anarchitecture,” a play on the words anarchy and architecture.  Created in 1974, Splitting consists of restructuring large cuts that were taken out of a house that was supposed to be demolished. Matta-Clark and his team created separations and holes in the dwelling’s structure. The walls were deconstructed to create new spaces between the different rooms. They also performed a cut that went through the house, beginning from the roof and ending in the basement. The artist documented his work through photos, which he gathered in a book titled Splitting. These photographs echo his work on the house. He made collages with the photos, cut them and combined them together to imagine even more modifications to be done on the house.

Matta-Clark continued to perform his building cuts, making them more spectacular. A notable one is titled Conical Intersect. This work of art was created in Paris in 1975. Matta-Clark made cuts in two buildings that were going to be demolished by the city. The round holes he created granted pedestrians access to a look inside the 17th century buildings. The circular cuts left by this art intervention started a pattern for the artist. He created similar round holes in other structures during the following years.

Matta-Clark called his creations on abandoned buildings “non-uments.” The artist’s on-site interventions did not remain, but his photographs and notes were conserved after he died in 1978. His work presents an awareness of architecture, which is still pertinent today as more humans live in cities and are surrounded by dynamic, ever-changing urban environments.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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