Gordon Matta-Clark: Works and Collected Writings Edited by Gloria Moure.
Ediciones Polígrafa, 2006. 430pp. £36. Distributed by Art Books International 023 9220 0080
Bunker: Along the Atlantic Wal l By Guido Guidi.
Electa, 2006. £24.99.
Distributed by Art Books International 023 9220 0080
Like his contemporary Robert Smithson, Gordon Matta-Clark died in his mid-30s, but like Smithson his brief life was full of creativity. In many books or magazines, though, their careers are encapsulated in a single image: Smithson's in The Spiral Jetty, his Land Art monument in Utah's Great Salt Lake; MattaClark's in Splitting, the suburban house in Englewood, New Jersey, that he bisected. This book is a corrrective then, showing everything that MattaClark did (inspired or not).
While Smithson's saltcrusted jetty re-emerged from the water a few years ago, and can still, with time and trouble, be visited, Matta-Clark's works now only survive in films, sketches, photographs and texts.
Occasionally in museums you find some material residue of his actions: a freestanding piece of stud wall removed from an empty property; a cube of molten glass that could be from a latter-day Pompeii.
But mostly we're left to sift through images and words.
In doing so, one sees just how prescient Matta-Clark was, in advance of today's agenda.
He studied architecture at Cornell but was wary of the profession ('I don't think most practitioners are solving anything except how to make a living'), yet worked with buildings and the urban landscape all his life. Not with the offspring of Lever House or Seagram, though. He was drawn to the derelict, to wastelands and city margins - those structures and places that corporate America ignored.
Matta-Clark's most eyecatching works were the 'cuts' and dissections of buildings that followed on from Splitting: two town houses by the Pompidou for Conical Intersect; a warehouse on a New York pier for Day's End; some Antwerp offices for Office Baroque. And 'Baroque' is the word for the spatial sequences that Matta-Clark created, chainsawing his way through walls and oors to often vertiginous effect, and anticipating the angle of the sun like a constructor of Stonehenge.
Not that many people saw all this for real: 'The grandiosity lasted about 10 minutes until the police arrived, ' Matta-Clark said of Day's End. But some sense of these interventions survives in the montages of multiple images that MattaClark made (much like those of Enric Miralles years later), and we can infer what they were like to experience.
His annexing of abandoned buildings wasn't only for aesthetic ends. While believing that 'people are fascinated by space-giving activities', Matta-Clark had a social mission too. Central to this book is his critique of housing conditions (not least their spatial confinement), but he foresees today's gated communities in saying: 'I would not make a total distinction between the imprisonment of the poor and the remarkably subtle self-containerisation of higher socio-economic neighbourhoods.'
Along with this was his questioning of what was valued and discarded in a society so casual about obsolescence. And already in 1971 he was using detritus from the Lower East Side to fabricate shelters for the homeless - a commitment to recycling seen today in the work of Shigeru Ban and many others.
But given his usual oppositional stance, one can't help wondering what MattaClark would think of 'sustainability' now being a mantra, and asking what he would have gone on to do.
While there would have been no shortage of derelict buildings for him to deal with, his brief career suggests he would be always pressing on.
This book gives us MattaClark in his own words, which are sometimes repetitive, and there are minor blemishes - e. g.
the scrambled picture references.
But it's beautifully presented on high-quality paper and proves that, as with Robert Smithson, there's much more to MattaClark than just a subject for a dutiful PhD.
The heavy concrete defences (walls 3.5m thick) that the Germans constructed on the Atlantic coast in the Second World War were the subject of Paul Virilio's Bunker Archaeology (still in print); and with Claude Parent, Virilio went on to build an almost literal bunker in his Church of Sainte Bernadette, Nevers. The proto-Brutalism of these structures makes them a congenial subject for photographs, and Guido Guidi's don't disappoint, if overall there's less sense of materiality in them than in Virilio's, as the boardmarked concrete is often consumed by light.
The book is Guidi's contribution to a continuing project called The Atlantic Wall Linear Museum ( www.
atlanticwall. polimi. it) - a substantial source of reference on these sombre remains.