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Gordon Matta-Clark and friends performing for
"Tree Dance" at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, 1971
Courtesy the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York

How often did Gordon see his father?

Roberto Matta left and didn't reappear until Gordon fell ill, but there were letters. His father was in on Gordon's decision to go to architecture school. He sent paintings to be sold so that Gordon, his brother Sebastian, and Anne could buy a house in Sag Harbor and later Gordon's loft on Wooster Street. Matta was around when Gordon was making Conical Intersect in Paris in 1975, when he cut through 8 inches of masonry in an abandoned building, creating a circular cut in fifteen days. Matta was connecting, but it wasn't close. Then, in 1977, he famously spat into the excavation Gordon made at Yvon Lambert. But then he came back when Gordon developed cancer and made sure Gordon got married. He wasn't your greatest father. Nor was Anne Clark the greatest mother. But Gordon had it together.

Untitled (Tree forms), 1971
Estate of Horace H. Solomon,
©Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark,
Courtesy Generali Foundation, Vienna

Are his drawings informed by his father's work?

There's a sense in Roberto Matta's drawings of energy systems and a psychological space that's architectural.

Matta-Clark's drawings are oddly scientific.

He’s tracking. The drawings look like situationist maps. His photographs are documents, but he wasn't satisfied with that, and so he turned the photographs into abstract spatial systems.

Bronx Floors: Threshold (Boston Post Road, Bronx), 1973
Collection of Anita Grossman Solomon,
©Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark,
Photo: Sheldan C. Collins

Initially, Matta-Clark moved in a kind of messianic, art historical limbo between Happenings, Performance Art, and Post-Minimalism. How did he become the designated driver of Conceptual Art?

This happened in waves. Following the death of Smithson, Dan Graham rediscovered Gordon for a new generation, fitting him into the architectural and theoretical world. Gordon was accepted in the '80s by people doing theory. He was exciting because he wouldn't fit into categories. Now the categories had to be re-thought to accommodate him. People compared Matta-Clark to Robert Smithson, who was a towering intellect, while Matta-Clark was more down to earth.

Office Baroque, 1977
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles;
partial and promised gift of Blake Byrne
©Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark,
Courtesy The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

What does the Whitney exhibition reveal that previous exhibitions haven't?

It brings out Matta-Clark's elegance as an artist. His poetic politics make him attractive. He was socially committed, but he wasn't concerned with identity or gender politics.

Circus, 1978
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago;
restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Bergman
and Susan and Lewis Manilow
©Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark,
Courtesy the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

But he was interested in alternative communities?

He tried Social Activism in a factory near Milan, where young Marxists conducted a sit-in. In 1975, he was criticized for his Conical Intersect by hard-line Marxist leftists in Paris, who called him a playboy. I wanted to introduce a paradigm shift in this exhibition, to avoid the word "conceptual" in relation to Gordon altogether. The term is more descriptive of somebody lacking a human side, while Gordon was always very interested in people, as can be seen in Splitting, 1974, or a when he created homes for the homeless or dispensed oxygen from his Fresh Air Cart in 1972. He was both a humanist and a conceptualist, appealing to a sense of being on the edge that we know from extreme sports.

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