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.