The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

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MAY 2013 Issue


On View
David Zwirner
April 2 – May 4, 2013
New York

Among the films, photo-collages, and drawings in Gordon Matta-Clark’s exhibition is a sculptural stone fragment of praying hands, found by Matta-Clark during the cutting of the circular “Conical Intersect” (1975). According to the lore, Matta-Clark fell while removing a layer from the abandoned building, landing on his back. The stone hands followed, alighting on the artist’s chest in the position that his own hands would take during prayer. That Matta-Clark kept this fragment is not surprising for such a pragmatic and resourceful artist. In the context of Above and Below, the hands position the visitor, by association, within the mode of spirituality. Photographs and a film made to document “Conical Intersect”present the artist’s ambitious hollowing-out of a section of two late 17th century properties near the Centre Georges Pompidou slated for demolition. The cone, a negative shape within the building, begins street-side and points upwards, the tip registering as a small hole that penetrates the roof. Much has been said of the cinematic nature of Matta-Clark’s projects—understandably, as light, space, and time feature in set-like scenarios, the events themselves essentially temporal and extant now only as remembrances of things past.

Gordon Matta-Clark, “Conical Intersect,” 1975. Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York/London.

I couldn’t help but think of Chantal Akerman’s 1976 film News from Home. Made on the streets of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and in the city’s subway, it records without drama the passage of time and the layered realities of urban life. Akerman reads extracts from her mother’s letters as a voice-over accompaniment to the film. This engagement with the structures and events of city life has precedents in Charles Baudelaire’s flânerie and Walter Benjamin’s Parisian Arcades Project. Matta-Clark’s own “City Slivers” (1976), is itself a partial portrait of New York City. Part of the screen is blank, emphasizing the verticality of the buildings and the shafts of space between them. Interspersed, sometimes simultaneously, are vantages from the viewing platform of the World Trade Center and, though hardly legible, a text near the end of the film includes the statement, “He just hit the pavement ... face down.” This may be a deliberate reference to the artist’s twin brother, who fell to his death from the window of an apartment the two shared the summer before the film was made. Revealed in Akerman’s and Matta-Clark’s films are connections, both personal and poetic, regarding mortality and loss. Inside and outside, above and below, all appear as related changes of state, like life and death.

In both “Substrait (Underground Dailies)” (1976) and “Sous-Sols de Paris (Paris Underground)”(1977), the camera makes subterranean journeys below the streets of Manhattan and Paris respectively. The former explores the burial chambers beneath the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine and underground sewage systems. The latter delves below L’Opéra and Les Halles to film long-abandoned tunnels and a wall against which are arranged thousands of skulls and skeleton fragments dating back to the days of the Revolution. In related photo-collages, the rows of skulls are shown as formally similar, in roundness and repetition, to safely stored wine bottles in a cellar.

Asymmetrically hung in groups, Matta-Clark’s drawings complement the photo-collages and give some indication of the thought involved in planning or proposing projects. The photo-collages juxtapose disjunctive viewpoints, as do the films, although here the former break from rectangular organizations into dynamic irregular compositions. “Jacob’s Ladder” (1977) again introduces the idea of above and below, in this case referencing the Old Testament ladder that connected heaven and earth. The ladder was used by Jacob to flee his brother Esau, surely another acknowledgement of the loss of Matta-Clark’s own brother, Sebastian. Curated with a concentration on the artist’s activities as a filmmaker by Jessamyn Fiore, the daughter of Jane Crawford, Matta-Clark’s widow, the exhibition is very personal and very much a family affair.

519 West 19th St. // NY, NY


David Rhodes

David Rhodes is a New York-based artist and writer, originally from Manchester, UK.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

All Issues