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Excavating the Anarchitecture of Gordon Matta-Clark

Part 1 Dissertation 2003
Beatrice Blakemore
University of Cambridge Cambridge UK
Once fiercely rejected by the architectural establishment of late-seventies New York, the artist Gordon Matta-Clark (1943- 1978) has gained posthumous popularity and acclaim in both artistic and architectural fields. Famous for the 'building cuts' whose destruction was a pre-condition of the work, the spatial manipulation of his architectural interventions has been widely discussed in formal terms. The dissertation aims to highlight the way in which architects typically attempt to internalise his work, misleadingly writing it into the highly theorised notion of ‘deconstructivist’ architecture, or appropriating the work at an anecdotal level as a generator for student projects. The dissertation aims to expose an alternative architectural narrative in the work of Matta-Clark, through an examination of marginalized areas of his work, including the 'Anarchitecture' project and filmic explorations of the city. The discussion foregrounds the urban context of New York as an architectural and social topography, within which Matta-Clark’s fragmentary criticisms of contemporary architecture and urbanism provide a lens through which to understand the city’s evolutionary processes.

The events of 9/11 and the subsequent use of the recently closed Fresh Kills Landfill site are discussed in relation to Matta-Clark’s interest in these two opposing icons of American consumerism, while his preoccupation with the territorialisation of the city through property lines is paralleled with ongoing issues of homelessness and community displacement.

The relationship between New York’s socio-economic structuring and its spatial ordering, governed by a gridded demarcation of the horizontal plane (intended to ‘democratise’ the city), and a vertical structuring in which scale along the upward axis is equated with wealth and power, is seen to be implicitly questioned throughout Matta-Clark’s work. Beyond the spatial implications of his cuts, the examination reveals the artist’s aim to emphasise the participatory and social ritual of art making, as a solution to the isolation wrought by urban and suburban space.


Beatrice Blakemore


Blakemore’s Third Year Dissertation on Gordon Matta-Clark achieves two things. Firstly, it places the famous ‘cuts’ in the context of Matta-Clark’s overall oeuvre which, secondly, is shown to manifest a prolonged concern with the nature of architecture. Among other things, one learns from this more nuanced history that the customary interest among architects in the ‘cuts’ , lying somewhere between a constructivist/cubist spatiality and a post-modern fascination with layers and palimpsests, in fact corresponds to the sort of interest that caused Matta-Clark to leave architecture.

Blakemore shows that Matta-Clark’s reaction against his teaching at Cornell, confirmed in the perverse reactions of Eisenman and MacNair to Matta-Clark’s contribution to an IAUS exhibition, launched his search for meaning beyond aesthetics. This search was largely an on-going dialogue with New York City, and encompassed motifs as diverse as cooking, property-law, the vacuous monumentality of the original twin towers, the nature of ‘waste’ and the underground, or underworld - milieu.

Along with many artists of his generation, Matta-Clark was as sceptical of the New York art scene as he was of contemporary architecture; but it allowed this ‘dialogue’ to take the form of engagements with the life of the city and the often inadvertent and ephemeral spatialities which it produced. Blakemore therefore has adhered closely to the terminology and preoccupations of contemporary art-criticism, has carefully scoured catalogues and reveiws, and has conducted interviews in order to re-instate Matta-Clark’s counter-mythology of architecture.

2003
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