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Object To Be Destroyed: The Work of Gordon Matta-Clark

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By Pamela M Lee, MIT Press, 2000, 280pp. £21.95

With an authority reminiscent of the heyday of the journal October , Pamela M Lee structures a path through previously sketchy territory in the history of conceptual art and architectural theory, writes Robin Wilson .

Although Matta-Clark is widely cited and influential - look no further than the creations of Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind and Rachel Whiteread - his life's work resists easy categorisation and posthumous interpretation has become ever more complex. None of the site-work 'building cuts' now exist (the last, Office Baroque in Antwerp, was bulldozed in 1980 after a lengthy battle to secure it for posterity); a fact that highlights the unstable and interstitial nature of the territory he explored.

An enticing biographical detail of the early chapters suggests a shared antipathy between Matta-Clark and his father, the surrealist artist Roberto Matta, for the social programme of Le Corbusier. Before joining the Surrealists, Roberto Matta had worked in Le Corbusier's studio as a draughtsman on the Ville Radieuse. Matta-Clark is thus positioned as a figure who was both immersed in the social issues of late '60s and '70s urban America through a new and radical form of art activism, and who also represented a theoretical continuity with the central issues of mid-century European avant-gardism.

Lee explores the relation of place to MattaClark's work in great detail. Fascinating patterns emerge between the urban histories of the zones into which Matta-Clark intervened.

Notably, his early site work in SoHo, Manhattan, drew attention to the disappearance of the district's nineteenth-century cast-iron workshops. Later, his Parisian building cut Conical Intersect , made into two seventeenthcentury town houses within the Pompidou Centre building site, would be symbolically linked to the destruction of Victor Baltard's castiron pavilions of the market of Les Halles.

Through Matta-Clark, Lee effectively examines all that architecture implicitly involves and which covertly shapes it: social relations, community, power hierarchies, the psychology of property, urban economics. This is an important book not just for practitioners but also for those who interpret architecture: critics, photographers and editors.

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