Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gordon Matta-Clark, Above and Below @Zwirner

JTF (just the facts): A total of 10 photographic works, 26 pencil/ink drawings, 4 films, and 1 sculpture, variously framed and matted, and hung/shown against white walls in the large, two room divided space. Counting the photographs is a bit tricky as many have multiple images printed together as a single work, or come in groups that make up a single work. There are 6 works that are printed on a single sheet, 1 diptych, 1 triptych, 1 set of 4 images, and 1 set of 6 images. All of the photographic prints are either chromogenic prints, silver dye bleach prints, or gelatin silver prints, taken between 1974 and 1977. Individual sizes range from 36x27 to 92x20, with many at 40x30 (or reverse); edition sizes are generally 3, when noted. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: This smart show chronicles the late works of Gordon Matta-Clark, documenting each separate project via a combination of films, photographs, drawings, and other ephemera. The different mediums show us alternate sides of Matta-Clark's artistic thinking, from his whimsical and imaginative preliminary drawings to collaged multi-perspective photographs showing particular angles and views of his in-process and completed architectural interventions. His films layer in a sense of time and motion, of open-ended exploration and discovery rather than predetermined creation. Taken together, there is a richness of context here that brings the projects alive.

Photographically, Matta-Clark's works start as straightforward documentation of cut-throughs, holes, and multiple levels of demolished walls and construction debris, with an eye for the iterations and changes that came with each successive removal. The images are then collaged together, mixing sizes and vantage points to create a kind of spatial rhythm, moving outward through a conical oculus or downward through descending squares, often with an unexpected see-through vista. The pictures feature interlocking arced geometries that become more complex and abstract when seen from specific spots, the larger logic of his precise interventions finally coming into view when surrounded by smaller strips of contact sheet style pictures.

A second group of works play with vertical descent, moving from the street down through successive layers of tunnels and understructures, stairs and sub-basements. Laid out as stacks of images, the works provide a kind of visual core sample, diving down from a landmark like the Opera in Paris to the subterranean catacombs and forgotten caverns below. Two films capture these performance-like explorations, one in Paris and one in New York, following subways, sewer systems, and other dark, murky pathways underneath the two cities. This verticality takes a different form in Matta-Clark's film City Slivers, where city traffic and urban architecture are cut into thin strips, moving and changing within the confines of the narrow band of vision. It's a jittery, tight view of New York, full of cuts, reflections, and cramped tallness.

I certainly came away from this exhibit with a deeper sense for Matta-Clark's sophisticated visualization talents. The gathered works point to seeing built environments with a strong sense for their underlying structure, to getting beyond the superficial and manipulating the patterns underneath to get at the purity of their abstract geometries. The mix of brainy conceptual thinking and rough and ready physicality keeps the projects from becoming too clever; the dust and rubble adds a layer of authenticity to his crisp rationality. His eyes slash through walls and floors like lasers, seeing a elegance of form hiding within, waiting to be released.

Collector's POV: The photographic works in this show are priced between $150000 and $1500000 (the set of 6 images). Matta-Clark's works have not come up at auction with any regularity I recent years; prices have ranged between roughly $7000 and $115000, but this range may not be entirely representative of the market for his most sought after works.

Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: Village Voice (here), Wall Street Journal (here)
Through May 4th
519 West 19th Street
New York, NY 10011

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