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Curator Elisabeth Sussman on the great Matta-Clark retrospective in the Whitney Museum, New York

You Are The Measure is the programmatic subtitle of the grandiose Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective at the Whitney Museum. With his radical architectonic interventions, performances, and actions, Matta-Clark made an indelible mark on the '70s art scene and inspired generations to come. Cheryl Kaplan spoke with the exhibition's curator Elisabeth Sussmann about the New York artist legend.

Splitting: Four Corners, 1974
©Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark,
Courtesy the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

When in 1974 Gordon Matta-Clark visited the home of his dealer Horace Solomon in New Jersey, the sparks flew. The artist had brought along his power saw and immediately set about cutting a slice through the crumbling outer wall. But Solomon didn't mind, because the abandoned house was scheduled for demolition. And so he gave it over to the young chain-saw-wielding artist for his actions. Matta-Clark had quite a task with his work Splitting, for which he made a single cut through the entire building from the living room through the staircase and up to the roof. While no one really knew what the architectonic intervention was supposed to mean at the time, everyone thought the piece was fantastic: it cut right through the wilted dream of middle-class America like a stick of old butter.

Gordon Matta-Clark: Hair, 1972 (Detail)
Photo: Carol Goodden,
Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York

Matta-Clark's Cuttings, in which he sliced open numerous condemned buildings and factories throughout the '70s, are considered to be among the most subversive of what American post-war art has to offer. Now, for the first time in 20 years, a large retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York provides an overview of the artist's work, who died from cancer in 1978 at the age of 35. You are the Measure, the show's subtitle, refers to the fact that although Matta-Clark labored over buildings, it was always society that he had in mind. The artist's heightened sensibility for the social conditioning of space is another reason why Deutsche Bank is sponsoring the retrospective: "Gordon Matta-Clark called our attention to the potential of our constructed environment. He changed our understanding of the everyday," as Gary Hattem, President of the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, explains.

Tina Girouard, Carol Goodden, and Gordon Matta-Clark
in front of Food restaurant, Prince Street
at Wooster Street, New York 1971
Photo: Richard Landry, alteration by Gordon Matta-Clark
Collection of Caroline Goodden McCoy,
Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and
David Zwirner, New York

The retrospective marks the artist's return to his native city; Matta-Clark grew up in Greenwich Village as the son of the famous Chilean Surrealist Roberto Matta, and his work was closely tied with New York of the 1970s. A dirty, gritty, but also very vibrant New York that has since fallen victim to urban gentrification. Duchamp's godson explored the city's free spaces; he was one of the first to serve Sushi and other strange dishes in the experimental restaurant collective Food, and together with friends he founded the group Anarchitecture as a counter-movement to ordinary architecture. Elisabeth Sussmann, curator of the Matta-Clark retrospective, spoke with Cheryl Kaplan about the multi-talented artist.

Eve Sussmann bei der Eröffnung der
Gordon Matta-Clark Retrospektive
im Whitney Museum, New York

CHERYL KAPLAN: When you think of Gordon, he's eternally 35, but he was born in 1943 in New York, in the midst of WWII. What was Gordon's relationship to the destruction in Europe?
ELISABETH SUSSMAN: He loved old Europe. Keith Sonnier said that Gordon knew Europe when it was still in ruins. Early in his life he was taken to Paris to visit his father, and then, in 1948, Gordon developed tuberculosis and was taken to a sanatorium in Switzerland for a year.

His father, Roberto Matta, had abandoned him and his twin brother only a few months after their birth. How did this loss shape Matta-Clark's art?

It shaped his art profoundly. Yet the way it comes out isn't melancholic at all. Gordon's extreme energy must have been an adjustment to a very forlorn sense of his father not being interested in him. He was trying to stave off the loss.

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