Gordon Matta-Clark is one of the artists most closely linked to the urban condition. Like so many other artists who settled in New York's SoHo in the late sixties, Matta-Clark became an emblem of what has on occasions been known as the 'loft situation'. His premature death in 1978 put an end to a career marked by a fast development of critical methods in the fields of art and architecture. His 'building cuts', consisting of aggressive interventions on the structure of derelict buildings, are still regarded as emblematic works. Splitting, 1973, Day's End, 1975, and Conical Intersect, 1975, soon became icons of urban activism. None of these constructions are still in existence. All that remains are photographic documents, films, drawings and, in some cases, isolated vestiges of the building. The transitory condition of this sculptural practice and its diffusion through documentary images radicalised Post-Minimalism and set the path for the tactics of Anarchitecture. The current exhibition includes works from the long-term loan of Harold Berg, granted to MACBA, as well as recent acquisitions of works by Matta-Clark.
In 1977, a year before his death, Gordon Matta-Clark initiated a turnaround that would take him beyond his 'building cuts', by then already well enshrined in the art institutions. That year the artist participated in Documenta 6 with Jacob's Ladder, 1977; he made Office Baroque in Antwerp; and began research on constructions suspended in space, the leitmotiv of a series of drawings entitled Sky Hooks, 1978. In 1978, Matta-Clark was able to complete Circus or The Caribbean Orange, 1978. The intervention took place in a three-storey building that was to become an extension of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Although the artist's initial intention was to build a structure of suspended tunnels held by taut steel cables, akin to the project he had presented at Documenta the previous summer, in the event he opted for a selective demolition of the building. Circus was made in a short period of time. The formal motif running through the cuts in the interior of the building originated from a circle projected into the interior, as he had already done in Conical Intersect and Office Baroque.
The more frequently quoted source of inspiration for Conical Intersect is the experimental film by Anthony McCall, Line Describing a Cone, 1973, described by the author as a 'solid light sculpture'. Matta-Clark must have seen it when it was screened at the Artists Space, New York. The projector formed a cone of tangible light from the dust and cigarette smoke that filled cinemas back in the days when it was still permitted to smoke. Instead of looking at the screen, the audience's gaze was directed toward the beam of light. Thus the film carved, literally, a volume in the space. Matta-Clark applied this principle to his intervention in the Paris Biennial, 1975, and to his later 'building cuts' in Antwerp and Chicago.
The preparations for Office Baroque suggest that the artist intended to excavate the inside of a building at 1 Ernest van Dijckkaai, opposite the Steen Castle, one of the main tourist sights in Antwerp. Matta-Clark wanted to remove part of the façade to obtain a quarter of a sphere whose axis would coincide with the corner of the building. However, legal problems in obtaining permission forced him to alter the project. For safety reasons, permission was eventually given to work only within closed doors, leading the artist to perforate down from the roof in a series of variations and intersections running through the five-storey building. The result was, in the artist's own words, 'an ever changing promenade of internal views.' Photographs taken at the time show visitors wandering through the entrails of the building, moving slowly among semi-demolished walls, and treading carefully on floors that reveal the space below. François Verresen, who was Matta-Clark's assistant for this work, remembers the difficulties in ensuring that the places where the artist had worked continued to be safe despite the cuts, extractions and assaults on the structure, so they could also become part of the exhibition. A documentary film by Eric Convents and Roger Steylaerts reveals how hard it was to make Office Baroque with such precarious means and scarce safety measures.
From 8 October to 6 November, 1977, the Internationaal Cultureel Centrum (ICC), Antwerp, exhibited various photographic montages recreating the complex views from the inside of Office Baroque. Vestiges of the building were taken there, creating sculptures in the form of rowing boats. The building was eventually demolished in 1980. Florent Bex, director of the ICC and promoter of Office Baroque, led a campaign to save it from demolition. Matta-Clark's work was to be the focus of a future museum of contemporary art in Antwerp. Unlike other projects destined to disappear shortly after taking form, this one could have remained. A series of photographs shows the measures that were taken to ensure its conservation. But before the municipal permission for demolition expired, the building was pulled down. The same administrative conditions that had allowed the artist to intervene in the old office building put an end to the situation of temporal limbo in which Office Baroque was caught. On 3 June, 1980, the Gazet van Antwerpen reported the news. Office Baroque had succumbed to the dynamics of property development. Matta-Clark had created his work in that interstice where real state awaits a sharp increase in value.
Portfolio Office Baroque, a series of over forty black-andwhite photographs documenting a great number of the artist's actions during the seventies, includes a wide range of such local situations. In all the interventions, the work functions as an indicator of transition, sitting in that intermediate space where holes and perforations have been created. In the same way, a work such as Sky Hooks aimed at a light occupation of the space through hot-air balloons and elevated structures. Peter Fend, whose job it was to make Matta-Clark's ideas real, remembers how the artist showed him drawings from the early twentieth century in the United States, in which Manhattan and Chicago appear as a jungle of elevated bypasses, running through numerous buildings ending in the shape of temples. As Fend has said, 'from that moment density was in the air, not on the ground.'