Whit czar Adam Weinberg remarked, as he surveyed the benighted detritus of his necessary Gordon Matta-Clark show, that "New York has much changed in the last 30 years." The wall texts, denoting that much of the Matta-Clark work is on loan from David Zwirner, a gallery which reportedly earns $1 million a month, confirmed this, as did Weinberg’s description of exhibition sponsor Deutsche Bank as being "brave" for underwriting the show. These days, Matta-Clark is an investment and his own bravery, like his short span on earth, is long gone. Now, apparently, only the banks are brave.
But, then again, certain New York things have stayed the same. A gaze out the Whitney’s fourth floor window revealed a teeter-toy construction atop the bank building across Madison Avenue not much different than the axed, split building parts on the museum floor. The train home passed the Carver houses in Harlem, the projects, where construction and destruction have always appeared equivalent in the gray, melting snow.
Matta-Clark sought such an equilibrium in his divided buildings and decapitated roofs, the coy conceit that everything that rises must submerge. Danger was his friend and everything he unmade teetered on the edge, like his brother who fell to his death from Gordon’s studio.
I had a friend, as a boy, who went out at night in his pajamas and walked the edges of the roof of our apartment building. Such folks have always filled me with fear, inciting an urge to roll up in a cocoon. But the Gordons of this world say that there is no cocoon -- it’s a lie like the mother who tells her crying child in the middle of the night that "everything is going to be all right."
There are multiple cocoons in the Whitney show: the money, for one, as Matta-Clark’s drawings seductively evoke the work of Rauschenberg, Hockney and even Louise Bourgeois. There’s a pretty penny to be made from this gorgeous evidence of nothing. And the endless, endless wall texts filling us with intellectual cream and frothing factoids. If ever an artist cried out for an exhibition with no explanations, no matter how sparse his surviving oeuvre and its visual documentation, it is Matta-Clark. Words and more words crucify his simple, dirty elegance. But we live in an art world where curators fawn over each other at press previews and the press shamelessly applauds.
If anything could raise Gordon from the dead it is the deadness of our self-satisfied art world. Let him rise from the rubble for one last chainsaw massacre before retreating to his eternal manger!
Adam Weinberg emphasized the "fragility" of Matta-Clark’s surviving pieces, the sculptures demarcated by lines forbidding the touch, but touch and touch again. Most of Gordon’s work is gone and the rest is too precious for money. After you see this show, visit some New York ruins, even if they are disguised as a construction site. Gordon will be there, too.
Gordon Matta-Clark, "You Are the Measure," Feb. 22-June 3, 2007, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).