Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect, (1975)
Gordon Matta-Clark’s influence is significant — if not for the public, who remain mostly unaware of his large-scale, space-specific installations, then for other artists who share his experimentalism and his belief in art as a social force.
For Matta-Clark, this pair of interlocking imperatives came together most vividly in “Conical Intersect,” created for the ninth Biennale de Paris in 1975. The idea is simple, but with implications — which could be said of all of Matta-Clark’s work. A block from the Centre Georges Pompidou, then under construction, the artist cut into two 16th century townhouses that had been scheduled for demolition, creating a vast circular opening “contracting from the exterior towards the interior of a building (from four meters to two meters) in the manner of a spyglass.”
The experimental aspects are obvious; the social, perhaps, not so much. Part of the point was to comment on what the Pompidou project was doing to its neighborhood, while also offering a new way of looking at (and thinking about) two buildings that would be destroyed. As Matta-Clark noted in a 1977 interview:
"The first thing one notices is that violence has been done. Then the violence turns into visual order and, hopefully, then to a sense of heightened awareness…. You see that light enters places it otherwise couldn’t. Angles and depths can be perceived where they should have been hidden. Spaces are available to move through that were previously inaccessible…. My hope is that the dynamism of the action can be seen as an alternative vocabulary with which to question the static, inert building environment."
For his Paris project, Matta-Clark was influenced by the son et lumiere tradition, with its sense of architecture as spectacle. But equally important was his desire to comment on “the street-drama of the construction and demolition,” his sense of urban renewal as a source of flattening, of forgetting, in which people, buildings, communities are consistently uprooted or left behind.