MATTA-CLARK, Gordon; Office Baroque
Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–78) is renowned for his architectural interventions and site-specific performances. His works question the function and nature of architecture in society; he famously described his practice as a means for converting ‘a place into a state of mind’(1) and was deeply committed to a form of ‘anarchitecture’ — a politicisation of urban design that employed informal methods of creation by users of urban space rather than expert builders. Matta-Clark’s approach to this involved carving sections from buildings scheduled for demolition, so-called building ‘cuts’, to open private spaces to the public and reorientate our sense of spatial awareness.
Matta-Clark worked extensively in photography and film to further visualise his spatial concerns and overcome the temporary character of these projects. Artist Joseph Kosuth once suggested that Matta-Clark used the camera ‘like he used a buzz saw. It was another tool for the physical conversation that went on’.(2) Office Baroque 1977 documents his last major site-specific project, which took place in Antwerp, Belgium. The film not only records the building cut of a five-storey building but also is a study of the creative process itself — in it, Matta-Clark’s commentary illuminates both his working methodologies and concerns in the broader field of sculpture.
Situated in a conspicuous area of Antwerp known as the Steen, a place where tourists gather to take photographs, the building involved previously served the shipping industry around the city’s port. Matta-Clark initially envisaged the project affecting the building’s exterior: a spherical quadrant almost the height of the building that would be removed from the corner, allowing sightseers to look right through it. However, the idea was rejected by city officials. Matta-Clark’s team continued to work on the building’s interior alone.
In Matta-Clark’s final proposal, two cuts take the shape of intertwining circles (inspired by the unintended rings that teacups can leave on paper), producing a peculiar, almost rowboat-shaped hole from floor to floor. Matta-Clark described the building as a ‘walk-through panoramic arabesque’(3) and its baroque form is expressed in the title. Describing the systematic plans and process for developing the project, Matta-Clark stated:
I wanted to work out an almost musical score in which a fixed set of elements played their way up and down through the layers. The disposition of spaces (large open offices near the ground, small interconnecting rooms towards the top) determined how the formal elements transformed from uninterrupted circular silences to shrapnel-like bits and pieces of the original form as they ‘collided’ with partitions and walls.(4)
The project was completed in September 1977; Matta-Clark died of cancer in August 1978 before seeing the film completed. Attempts to retain the building as a museum of contemporary art through fundraising and government lobbying by Florent Bex, the then director of the International Cultureel Centrum, who also financed the project, were unsuccessful and the building was demolished by the owner in 1980.
José Da Silva, Artlines 2-2012, p.43.
1 Matta-Clark, quoted in Steven Jenkins (ed.), City Slivers and Fresh Kills: The Films of Gordon Matta-Clark, San Francisco Cinémathèque, San Francisco Art Institute, United States, 2004, unpaginated.
2 Kosuth, interviewed by Joan Simon, in Mary Jan Jacob, Gordon Matta-Clark: A Retrospective, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, United States, 1985, p.95.
3 Matta-Clark, quoted in Gordon Matta-Clark [exhibition catalogue], Musées de Marseille, France, 1993, p.101.
4 Interview with Matta-Clark, in Matta-Clark [exhibition catalogue], International Cultureel Centrum, Antwerp, Belgium, 1977, unpaginated.