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"Completion through removal. Abstraction of surfaces. Not-building, not-to-rebuild, not-built-space. Breaking and entering." With these words, written at age twenty-eight, Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–1978) succinctly announced the program of his mature career, which would be tragically cut short by cancer. Son of Chilean painter Roberto Matta and American artist Anne Clark, and godson of Marcel Duchamp, Matta-Clark grew up with close ties to the art world in New York, Paris, and elsewhere in Europe. He studied architecture as an undergraduate and then became active in the downtown New York City scene, renovating SoHo lofts and creating room-filling installations that proposed quasi-alchemical transformations of food, building debris, refuse, and hair, among other unconventional materials. In 1972, he began to operate on standing real estate, sawing abstractly shaped cuts in the walls and floors of apartments, family homes, a municipal pier shed, and an office building. His work was at times illegal, often dangerous, and always physically demanding. He took unused property and rendered it pointedly useless; and in that uselessness, it renewed the place of art as a means of aesthetic and critical action in contemporary society.

Conical Intersect resulted from an invitation by city officials in Paris on the occasion of the ninth Paris Biennial, 1975. The French authorities in charge of demolishing the old marketplace, Les Halles, and making room for the new Centre Georges Pompidou, offered Matta-Clark a pair of early seventeenth-century houses adjacent to the Centre Pompidou building site that were slated for demolition. Matta-Clark proposed as his intervention an upwardly thrusting conical cut, as if from a monstrously sized drill, with the large end overlooking the busy rue Beaubourg, and the narrow upper end affording a miniaturized view of the nearly completed modern art museum. As had become his practice, the project developed through multiple media: daily interactions with pedestrians and local inhabitants, including roasting 750 pounds of beef for passersby on the Pompidou plaza; the actual deconstruction project, occupying a team of workers alongside Matta-Clark; a film of the undertaking; and photomontages such as the work acquired by the National Gallery of Art. The buildings were destroyed soon after completion of the piece.

Matta-Clark's use of photography and film transcends the documentary to become an integral part of his risky, ephemeral artmaking. The four slices of color negatives in this print, wounded fragments that proudly show their sprockets and margins, have been enlarged and juxtaposed against a blank background; they appear as pictures of archaeological evidence and as actual bits of evidence themselves. A blinding sunlight leaking through the cuts in two of the pictures surpasses in its brilliance even the whiteness of the back ground, giving a real sense of opening up; of the exposure of a musty, formerly haut-bourgeois dwelling to outside, hopefully democratic, forces symbolized by the bright light. The lower image, meanwhile, gives a clear awareness of the vertiginous plunge created by sawing out sections of flooring at multiple levels, a removal that also eliminates barriers between the buildings' upper and lower stories, thereby joyously opening up those parts of a domestic dwelling conventionally reserved for servants and the "base" operations of food preparation and waste removal.


Eileen and Michael Cohen, New York; NGA purchase (through Zwirner and Wirth, New York), 2008.

Exhibition History

In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes Before the Digital Age, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2009 - 2010, unnumbered catalogue.
Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph, 1965-1977, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2011 - 2012, unnumbered catalogue.
In Light of the Past: Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Collecting Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, May 3 – July 26, 2015


Lee, Pamela. Object to Be Destroyed: The Work of Gordon Matta-Clark. Cambridge, MA and London, 2000.

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