There have been several exhibitions on Gordon Matta-Clark and one of the most comprehensive ones is exhibited at KUMU until the 8th of June, 2019. Matta-Clark, an architect who uses photography for documentation of his works is revisited by a space-oriented photographer Anu Vahtra through the exhibition Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect. Anu Vahtra: Completion through removal.

Underneath the Visible

Gordon Matta-Clark, best known for his “anarchitecture” (a combination of the words “anarchy” and “architecture”) in which he gets into soon to be destroyed buildings and cuts them, uses architecture to show what is deep inside. As he cuts through floors, ceilings, and walls, he creates a new open space that was not there before. Through his usage of photography and videos for documentation, he puts the viewer in such a disoriented position that one has to fully focus to determine his standing point in that newly existing space. His works are interpreted as an effort to show how connected we are through removing connections. He cuts and digs. Through time, he cuts and digs wider and deeper. He searches for what is underneath the visible. And this time, the viewer also has the chance to go deep in Gordon Matta-Clark’s thoughts, underneath the visible, by the broad range of works exhibited at KUMU.

Problematic Family Relationships

There have been said and written a lot about his artistic medium and philosophy behind the building cuts within the terms of architectural and art historical languages. Re-exploring his works through different disciplines may help to understand and know him better. From a comparative standpoint, Matta-Clark’s relations with buildings and divided spaces within them can be interpreted as a representation of his relations with his father, Roberto Matta.

Matta-Clark’s father Roberto Matta was a well-known surreal artist who started his career as an architect. He worked at Le Corbusier’s studio for about two years in the late ‘30s and during this period it was obvious that those two men, Corbusier and Matta, were not on the same page. Almost 30 years later, the architecture education Matta-Clark had at Cornell University was dominantly founded on Le Corbusian principles which Matta-Clark was totally against. Matta-Clark’s relationship with his father was actually a problematic one. Matta had never praised his son until the day Matta-Clark died at the age of 35. In 1970, Gordon would change his surname to Matta-Clark by incorporating his mother’s maiden name. Matta-Clark had a twin brother, Sebastian (Batan), who was also an artist, a brighter one with some problems. Since they were very close and getting along quite well, Sebastian’s suicide (or fall) in 1975 would devastate Matta-Clark.

Opposition to the Father of Modern Architecture

In the ‘70s, New York’s city plan was designed through Corbusian principles. Even though the city was hosting the world’s tallest building (the Empire State Building), it was also welcoming its successors, the Twin Towers – World Trade Center. Like palaces and cathedrals of previous centuries, architecture was again used for the sake of power symbolization in the name of corporate buildings. “For Gordon, architecture had failed the common man” would say Bessa from Bronx Museum. Anarchitecture, was born due to this urge; the urge to oppose to the “father of modern architecture”.

The will to destroy the tallest buildings which symbolize the dominant power, the father, can also be interpreted as a reflection of his relationship with his father. In her book, Object to be Destroyed: The Work of Gordon Matta-Clark, Lee would explain this situation as “Matta-Clark wrestled for the rest of his short life with a simultaneous denial of his father’s influence and a desire for his recognition. Every testimony devoted to the younger artist’s rejection of the father is complemented by a discussion of Matta-Clark’s need for acceptance”.

An Artist, an Influencer, and a Son

Whilst trying to be like his father, that Oedipal anger and the need for changing the paternal figure were there. He was creating new spaces by removing connections via cutting, slicing, and dividing. Those connection free spaces were also attachment free spaces that always had an opening so that no one could be trapped. “Although he never spoke about his father, I realized that he had spent his whole life competing with him” would say his former partner Carolina Goodden in Lee’s book. Since the outer world represents the father figure, every cut, split, remake he did to reshape the outer world can be seen as an attempt to overcome his ambivalent feelings about his father whom he might want to supersede, resemble, and differ. Countless efforts to deal with the father who was and was not there…

In the end, considering Matta-Clark works as a pure expression of father-son relationship can be too much simplification, even a reduction. On the other hand, ignoring the signs may prevent the viewer from seeing the topic from all possible sides. Therefore, through your journey in KUMU corridors redesigned by Anu Vahtra, be ready to meet an artist, an influencer, and a son.

Photo by Harry Gruyaert. Gordon Matta-Clark and Gerry Hovagimyan working on Conical Intersect. Paris, 1975. Courtesy of the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York / London