The Sienna contemporary Art Center
6th June - 19th October 2008
written by Robert Dingle
The Sienna Contemporary Art Center having moved venue is marking its new exhibition space with a retrospective of works by Gordon Matta-Clark curated by Lorenzo Fusi and Marco Pierini. The curators intention is made clear from the press release: ‘The aim of the show is to propose a reconstruction of the artist's varied and prolific career, ranging between the most diverse languages and forms of expression from the end of the Sixties until his premature demise in 1978’.
The space couldn’t be more appropriate. Keeping to schedule has meant the few remaining snagging issues of the build continue to be visible. The section of partly painted stairwell, trailing wires throughout the corridors and the abrasive surface of the interior render (scratching anything coming into contact with it), all appear perfectly coordinated with the work to the extent where on occasion, they appear staged.
The exhibition is ordered chronologically and accompanied by an almost entire filmography. The numerous drawings, diagrams and plans from the artists ‘building cuts’ project, make up a large proportion of the exhibition raising questions about the role of documentation and the presentation of work within the context of the gallery.
Opening with Garbage Wall (1970), a wall constructed from found objects and refuse, the work establishes a set of recurrent themes that are carried throughout the exhibition. Whether its the environmental awareness and evolution of materials demonstrated in Glass Brick (1971), (where a transformative process turns disused glass bottles into an environmental construction material) or the assembled archival material of Fake Estates (1973-4), (a collection of auctioned off ‘gutter-spaces’ in New York) Matta-Clark’s interventions have retained their poignancy as they confront issues that remain pertinent.
Glass Brick was designed to become a low cost construction and building material of easy production. At the time Matta-Clark offered it as a resolution to the predicament of high numbers of homeless people and the failure of affordable housing policies in New York City, though under the conditions of the current economic context and particularly in light of a potential global recession the work acquires new significance.
From the transformation of materials including architecture and urban environments, Days End (1975) poses the question of how an unoccupied city pier can be converted into a city park. Matta-Clark wrote in one of his notebooks that he was less interested in designing buildings (having initially trained as an architect at Cornell University), than he was in converting a building into a state of mind. A process he described in a letter to the New York Department of Real Estate as ‘making sculpture using the by-products of the land and the people’.
Navigating the exhibition it becomes apparent the extent to which entropic processes underpin Matta-Clark’s work. What results is a palpable experience that underlies the topical importance to show these works three decades after they were produced. We need only to look towards a handful of recent exhibitions and talks, such as Ecotopia the 2007 Second ICP Triennial of Photography and Video, Artful Ecologies: Art, Nature and Environment the 2006 conference held in Falmouth and Ecovention, to witness the inclined debate surrounding the role art and artists within society and in relation to the environment and ecology.
The exhibition offers us a laconic and detailed insight into the production and ideas of Matta-Clarke’s work, presenting us with an image of a highly skilled individual proficiently attuned to the social ecology 1970’s America.