Reality can seem a debatable term. But is worth considering that the word came into use in the 1540s as a legal reference to a fixed property. Of course, the word realty still means possession.
So you could make a case for Fake Estates being a realist artwork par excellence. Because Matta-Clark took ownership of 15 lots of real estate in New York.
He did so via financial and legal means in the first instance, buying the untenable slivers of gutter space at auction and then collating the conveyancing paperwork.
And then he took ownership in the way artists are wont to, by photographing and writing about the empty spaces. Art offers another way to come into possession of a subject.
But reality, in the 16th century usage, has become a speculative business. Land is rarely purchased without a plan for turning a profit on it. In that sense, this project was fake.
Matta-Clark’s awkward, inaccessible lots would have been impossible to develop, and ownership merely passed into the hands of the city after his death in 1978.
Clearly, realist art does not speculate. It returns a form of ownership to the common purview. And such is the anarchic (and indeed anarchitectural) promise of Fake Estates.
The above picture shows Reality Properties: Fake Estates—“Maspeth Onions,” Block 2406, Lot 148 (1973) which can be seen in the Barbican until 22 May. See gallery website for more details on current show: Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta Clark – Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s.