Review: Matta-Clark and Ando make magic at the Pulitzer
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 2, 2009 - With "Urban Alchemy: Gordon Matta-Clark," the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts has once again lived up to its promise to bring exceptional artworks to St. Louis and exhibit them so they come into dialogue with Tadao Ando's architecture.
Matta-Clark was an artist who worked through architecture -- splitting buildings, drilling holes through them, carving them up and recording his efforts on video and in photographs, all in an effort to get us to rethink our relationship to spaces. He was an urban interventionist, exposing the brutality of the capitalist market that resulted in the disenfranchisement of whole segments of the population.
In one of his savviest works, "Reality Properties: Fake Estates," Matta-Clark purchased tiny wedges of land in the less fashionable New York boroughs, exposing the cracks in a real estate system driven purely by profit motive. He called his efforts "Anarchitecture," but he was no anarchist. He worked through the system in order to change it. And had he lived longer (he died of cancer in 1978), he no doubt would have been able to change more.
The dialogue struck up between Ando's Pulitzer building and Matta-Clark's works -- his building fragments, photographs, blueprints and videos -- is one of contrast, to be sure. But Ando and Matta-Clark take unconventional approaches to space and both have altered our understanding of the built environment, so the pairing seems particularly apt.
In the past 10 years, Matta-Clark has enjoyed an apotheosis of sorts, becoming the subject of solo shows and a slew of scholarly publications. His works are actually in demand, and were the hunks of plywood, sheet metal and asphalt shingles for sale, they'd no doubt command astronomical sums.
Ironic? No -- just the normal progression of avant-garde art, which, after an initial shock period, becomes subsumed into the very economic system it sets out to critique.
Ask any devotee of '60s and '70s conceptual art, for whom Matta-Clark is a Michelangelo: The chance to see works like "Splitting: Four Corners" (1974) in the flesh is a little like getting up close and personal with "David."
Ivy Cooper is a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.