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Gordon Matta-Clark

Splitting, 1974

Publication | Self-published artists’ book
32 pp., staple bound | 25 b/w illustrations
17.8 x 28.3 cm, with a tipped-in three-panel fold out poster, 39.6 x 26.6 cm
Offset printed, with glossy wrappers
New York: 98 Green Street Loft Press, 1974

In the decade between receiving his B.A. in architecture from Cornell University and his death in 1978, Gordon Matta-Clark was a key member of the New York avant-garde. Most significantly his work was formed outside the parameters of gallery presentations, and as with many artists who matured in the 1960s, his subversive activities were rooted in a critique of bourgeois American culture.

Compelled to focus attention on the dehumanization of the modern world, Matta-Clark developed a personal idiom that combined Minimalism and Surrealism with urban architecture. Using abandoned buildings for his medium and wielding a chainsaw as his instrument, he cut into the structures, creating unexpected apertures, geometric incisions, holes or cut-outs. In only eight years, from 1970 to 1978, Matta-Clark created a complex, radical and innovative body of work that has continued to influence subsequent generations of architects and visual artists.

Gordon Matta-Clark’s first large scale project was entitled Splitting and belongs to his series of the so-called Cuttings. In 1974 he operated on a two-story home slated for demolition, effectively splitting it down the middle. In an interview the artist commented this unprecedented deconstruction: “Splitting was done at 332 Humphrey Street in Englewood, New Jersey. It was a predominantly Black neighbourhood that was being demolished for an urban renewal project that was never completed. When I took over the house, it was strewn with personal debris left by its abruptly evicted tenants. The work began by cutting a one-inch slice through all the structural surfaces dividing the building in half. The second stage was to bevel down the forty lineal feet of the foundations so that the rear half could be lowered one foot. The central ‘split’ was formed by the five degree tilt activating the house with a brilliant wedge of sunlight that spilled into every room” (in: Matta-Clark, exhibition catalogue, ICC – Internationaal Cultureel Centrum, Antwerp, September 1977, pp. 9-10). In addition, he cut out the corners of the house’s roof, which were subsequently shown at John Gibson Gallery in New York. The finished work at the house –provided by the owners Horace and Holly Solomon–  lasted three months before being demolished.

The artist not only photographed and filmed this process in order to created collage of prints of this disorienting experience, he also released the artists’ book Splitting, self-published in an unknown print run. Divided into four sections it documents in chronological order Matta-Clark’s interventions at the house. Each section is introduced with a spare comment by the artist, then followed each time by a double page with the views of the four facades and two collages with interior views, be it the basement, the main hall, the staircase or the upper rooms. Within that strict order one sees first the untouched house, the outlines of the cut, the divided house and the removed corners of the roof. At the end a three-panel fold out poster affixed to the inside of the back cover shows a photo-collage of the longitudinal section through the house.

Next to six unique book works, Splitting (New York: 98 Green Street Loft Press, 1974) is together with Walls Paper (New York: Buffalo Press, 1973) the only artists’ book that Gordon Matta-Clark has published in a larger edition.

Moritz Küng


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