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Gordon Matta-Clark: The Beginning of Trees and the End

Contributions by Jessamyn Fiore / Text by Briony Fer
Published by David Zwirner Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



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About The Book

Documenting the artist’s extraordinary accomplishments as a draftsman, this publication originates from the 2015 solo presentation at David Zwirner, New York, entitled Energy & Abstraction, organized in close collaboration with Jane Crawford and Jessamyn Fiore from the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark.

Well known for his radical “anarchitectural” interventions throughout the 1970s, Gordon Matta-Clark was always deeply, though less publicly, committed to drawing. His works on paper—which span three-dimensional reliefs, calligraphy, and notebook entries—capture the interdisciplinary spirit that defined the art world in the 1970s. Intricate and concise, they testify to his interest in the crossovers between visual and performance arts, as well as the broader integration within his oeuvre of the natural and built environment.

This catalogue presents in vibrant detail selections from Matta-Clark’s Cut Drawings, Energy Rooms, Energy Trees, and his own “calligraphy,” many of which have never been published. Perhaps the best known of the group, the Cut Drawings explore parallel, smaller-format versions of his physical interventions in architecture; slicing meticulously through several layers of paper, gesso, or cardboard, Matta-Clark created sculptural flat works that emphasized the voids created by the extraction of matter. Drawings with his own “calligraphy” emphasize the medium of drawing as an independent form. Abstract letters make up a code that remains indecipherable, but points toward a visionary longing to invent new languages and structures of experience. Some of the most elaborate and colorful compositions include trees, several of which refer explicitly to Matta-Clark’s Tree Dance performance at Vassar College in upstate New York in 1971. In full-color plates, the reader can see the physical structure of his trees “dissolving” into kinetic energy and, in some drawings, becoming reduced to a multitude of arrows. Near-abstract tree shapes also incorporate his calligraphic marks, with branches constructed from imaginary letters, again emphasizing the importance of language to a new visual experience. Matta-Clark’s notebooks, which he often insisted on completing in a single sitting, are presented in elegantly curated groups. Combining elements of Surrealist automatic drawing with an interest in choreography, these works appealed to performance artists at the time—including Laurie Anderson and Trisha Brown. This unparalleled presentation of Matta-Clark’s drawings is accompanied by new and exciting scholarship by Briony Fer, as well as a conversation between Jessamyn Fiore and contemporary artist Sarah Sze; it marks a major contribution to the literature on this highly influential artist.

About The Author

A central figure of the downtown New York art scene in the 1970s, Gordon Matta-Clark (1943–1978) pioneered a radical approach to art making that directly engaged the urban environment and the communities within it. Through his many projects—including large-scale architectural interventions in which he physically cut through buildings slated for demolition—Matta-Clark developed a singular and prodigious oeuvre that critically examined the structures of the built environment. With actions and experimentations across a wide range of media, his work transcended the genres of performance, conceptual, process, and land art, making him one of the most innovative and influential artists of his generation. As Roberta Smith notes, Matta-Clark “used his skills to reshape and transform architecture into an art of structural explication and spatial revelation.”

Product Details

  • Publisher: David Zwirner Books (June 14, 2016)
  • Length: 184 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781941701256

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Raves and Reviews

“Matta-Clark brutally manipulates whole buildings by physically altering them as a performance and as a transitory sculpture. The kinetic energy found in these site specific works is brought to life in the drawings he has left behind.”

– Jamie Ho, Need Supply Co.

Matta-Clark’s “calligraphy” and drafts “have magical powers that are almost stronger when you can't read them, and a sense that unreadable scripts return us to an era that’s less pedestrian than our own.”

– Blake Gopnik, Artnet News

“Matta-Clark was as accomplished at making drawings with pencils, pens, markers, and crayons as he was at cutting into abandoned warehouses, suburban homes, and dilapidated tenement buildings with a chain saw. And these drawings offer a variety of insights into the artist’s attitudes about nature, movement, and geometry…"

– Phyllis Tuchman, ARTFORUM

“Expansive, yet focused exhibition… Making the selection particularly distinctive is its focus on the artist’s works on paper, a medium that contrasts with the New York native’s experiments with cement or other industrial materials.”

– O.C. Yerebakan, Art Observed

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