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Art After 1945: Gordon Matta-Clark

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Herber Y.
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  1. Introduction
  2. Matta-Clark's intentions
  3. Inefficiency of administrative practices
  4. 'Dangerous maneuvers'
  5. Conclusion

Like many of the artists of the 1970s, Gordon Matta-Clark was concerned with the impact of a capitalist-driven society on an urban setting. After studying architecture at Cornell University, Matta-Clark devoted himself to the concept of ?anarchitecture.? Anarchitecture is an architectural art in which Matta-Clark used a subtractive method to create works from preexisting buildings. Through this idea of ?unbuilding?, Matta-Clark sought to oppose the capitalistic motives of contemporary society, while also commenting on the social concerns of urban dwelling. By closely analyzing Reality Properties: Fake Estates (1973) (Figure 1), Day's End (1975) (Figure 2) and Window Blowout (1976) (Figure 3), this paper will expose the underlining political and social motives of Gordon Matta-Clark's art.

Although Matta-Clark worked internationally- some of his most famous works were located in Paris and Antwerp- Reality Properties: Fake Estates, Day's End and Window Blowout are all set in New York City. Therefore, it is imperative to consider the political, economic and social concerns that confronted the city in the 1970s. Matta-Clark, a native New Yorker, found himself an inhabitant of a ?deurbanizing city,? in which all aspects of ?urban life suffered.? New York City had come to ?symbolize the nation's urban crisis;? drugs and crime flourished while the population declined leaving the landscape to be dominated by abandoned buildings. In turn, these developments pointed to the inadequacy of the municipal government. However, in this dire setting of urban decay, Matta-Clark found a source of inspiration. Ultimately, it led him to expose the ?wild inefficiencies? of the city's authorities and emphasize the detrimental impact he thought capitalism and modernism had on the city. Such motives can be observed in his Reality Properties: Fake Estates.

[...] In doing so, Matta-Clark is also, reviving the ?useless? building before it is termination and in a way ?preserving? it.[24] Opposite to Day's End, which required its viewer to leave Manhattan and step into less affluent areas, Window Blowout brought the Bronx to Manhattan. In December 1976, Matta-Clark was invited by the Institute for Architecture and Urban Resources to partake in an exhibit entitled ?Idea as Model.? The show was intended to celebrate the ?progress represented by the evolving megalopolis.?[25] Richard Meier, Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman, three of the ?high profile architects from the so-called New York were among its participants.[26] The New York Five represented architects who were the forerunners in modernism, thus ?allied to institutions and big business.?[27] Moreover, they stood for everything Matta-Clark was against. [...]


[...] Matta-Clark had several social objectives in his shoot-out. Firstly, Matta-Clark saw the Bronx as the ?epitome of urban neglect? and in order to draw attention to this he needed to ?invert the urban structure? by bringing the Bronx to Manhattan.[31] Like Day's End, he was forcing his viewer to acknowledge the prevalence of neglect that had casted over areas outside of Manhattan. This comparison of the quality of life was underscored by Eisenman's reaction of demanding the windows be replaced at once: this deterioration was intolerable there, why was it tolerable day in and day out in the South Bronx??[32] Furthermore, by juxtaposing Manhattan's quality of life with that of the Bronx's, Matta-Clark was demonstrating the ?bureaucratic or juridical ambivalence and in-action.?[33] His actions are also aimed to evoke the emotions of those dwelling in the dire conditions of public housing. [...]


[...] footprint on the landscape of New York a theme that can also be seen in Day's End.[12] Matta-Clark began Day's End in 1975 when he trudged into the ?forgotten quarter? of New York City; located on the Hudson River, adjacent to Greenwich Village, stood a 19th century steel building at Pier 52.[13] The building was massive; its floor was six hundred feet long and sixty- five feet wide and the ceiling loomed fifty-five above. The monstrous building was abandoned and under the jurisdiction of the City Port Authority. [...]

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