David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of late works by Gordon Matta-Clark, focusing in particular on his activities as a filmmaker. Curated by Jessamyn Fiore, the show features the artist's explorations in subterranean New York and Paris alongside building cuts and projects involving aerial elevation. It is on view at the gallery's 519 West 19th Street space in New York.
The exhibition begins above ground with City Slivers, Matta-Clark's fragmented portrait of New York City from 1976. Eschewing a clear viewpoint and leaving large parts of the screen black, viewers are offered vertical cuts of bustling streets and skyscrapers interspersed with panoramas taken from atop the World Trade Center. The shifting viewing angles, sometimes shown simultaneously, seem at once celebratory and nervously laden, and contain a poignant, if perhaps subliminal, reference to the artist's twin brother, who fell to his death from a window in their shared apartment that summer. A brief and barely legible text towards the end of the film includes the words "he just hit the pavement…face down."
Made a year earlier, Conical Intersect was filmed in and around Matta-Clark's iconic cut through two properties awaiting demolition next to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (under construction at the time). The film reveals various stages of the elaborate project, whereby a large circular shape was sliced from a heavy masonry, street-facing wall in one building, and a conical space carved out across the other side at an upward angle, piercing a small hole in the roof. The laborious digging through several layers of the buildings' foundations was complemented two years later with Sous-sols de Paris (1977), where the camera was taken below ground to multi-level tunnels and structures long abandoned. Through minimal editing, the underground–illuminated only by handheld torches–is contrasted with brief clips from the streets above. Matta-Clark thus creates a dialogue between new and old Paris, the visible and hidden city, both light and sinister. Deep below L'Opera and Les Halles, a neatly arranged wall composed of thousands of human skulls and bone fragments dating from the days of the Revolution finds a curious match with countless wine bottles, safely stored in the cool temperatures. The film ends, perhaps appropriately, with a wine tasting.
Substrait (Underground Dailies) (1976), Matta-Clark's underground portrait of New York, reveals a view of the American city never seen by most people. Burial chambers underneath the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, tracks running deep below Grand Central Station, and sewage structures with underground rivers streaming through, combine to make up the urban tissue beneath the surface–vividly compared in the explanatory dialogues accompanying the film as "arteries and veins."
Photographs and drawings accompany the films on view, documenting both the metropolitan explorations and contemporaneous projects by the artist. Jacob's Ladder, Matta-Clark's ambitious project for Documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany, in 1977, originally included plans to develop an aerial dwelling site suspended some fifteen feet above ground, but ultimately took on the shape of a long woven net attached to a thirty-story-tall chimney, which brave visitors could ascend one thin batten at a time. The title of the installation was chosen by Matta-Clark for its analogy to the Old Testament story of Jacob's dream, of a staircase connecting Heaven and Earth. By implication, it is also a reference to brotherly rivalry, as this vision occurred while he was fleeing from his brother Esau, with whom he had been fighting for inheritance. As such, the project contains perhaps another reference to the loss of artist's twin brother a year earlier.
A series of diagrammatic sketches entitled Sky Hook (studies for a balloon building) (1978) are testaments to Matta-Clark's idealistic interest in architecture and urban renewal. Based on vigorous research into the mechanics of ballooning, these drawings outline tent-like towers attached to large inflatable shapes. Balancing somewhere between actual proposals for flexible, economic housing networks and playful fantasies, they map out alternative spaces in defiance of existing social environments and even gravity. As such, they match one of the inspirations behind the subterranean expeditions, where the search for the "negative" spaces of the city became part of a broader interest in "mapping…lost foundations: working back into society from beneath."