Category Archives: anarchitecture

Gordon Matta-Clark, Reality Properties: Fake Estates (1973)

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.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974)

Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974). Image courtesy Barbican Art Gallery.

Novelist Philip Roth is known for having said: “When a writer is born into a family, that family is finished.” And this work by Gordon Matta-Clark suggests a comparable model for artists.

The house which he literally saws in two is described in a caption to the film of the event as a “typical family home”. It is then demolished in a total act of homewrecking.

A certain level of violence is needed to complete this task and, as Matta-Clark bludgeons out the foundations with a sledgehammer, it looks pretty dangerous.

According to an intriguing academic paper, just a year before this work was made the artist’s cousin was in the Broadway Central Hotel, speaking to his mother on the phone, when it collapsed.

So it was Matta-Clark’s experience that the roof over your head and your nearest and dearest can, in a direct and indirect way, destroy. When anyone is born into a family, that person is finished.

Of course, it was this person’s good or bad fortune to be the son of two more artists, Anne Clark and perhaps more significantly, Roberto Matta. That cannot have been too damaging to his own work.

And from dad he inherited an antipathy towards conformist architecture. Matta worked for Le Corbusier and later rejected his ideas. His son also studied the discipline only to do the same.

But their relationship appears to have been fraught, which may be another word for typical. Or maybe, this piece is just a comment on housing in New Jersey, where Roth grew up, incidentally.

Film and photography documenting Splitting, along with four upper corners from the house itself, can be seen in at Barbican Art Gallery, London. The show is called Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene New York 1970s and runs until 22 May.

You can read my review of this show on Culture24. And further reviews of shows which feature Matta-Clark can be found in Frieze and The New York Times. I also found this news piece about his show at the Whitney to be most informative.