Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Back in the Bronx: Gordon Matta-Clark, Rogue Sculptor

Critic’s Notebook

Back in the Bronx:
Gordon Matta-Clark, Rogue Sculptor

The Bronx Museum’s beautifully staged, streamlined version of the artist’s career still conveys a full picture of his radical sensibility.
The small Bronx Museum of the Arts regularly hits above its weight. It is doing so again with “Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect,” a streamlined exhibition of the work of this insurrectionary artist. The show creates a remarkably full picture of an irrepressible and unfailingly D.I.Y. maverick who is revered as one of the prime movers in the juggernaut of Conceptual, Process and Performance art that emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s. With a range that few of his peers equaled, Matta-Clark contributed to all of these genres.
He and his twin brother, John Sebastian, were born in New York to the Chilean Surrealist painter Roberto Matta and Anne Clark, an American artist and fashion designer. The parents separated shortly after their birth, and the boys were raised primarily in Greenwich Village by their mother. Matta-Clark (1943-1978) studied architecture at Cornell University, and evolved into a kind of urban land artist who used his skills to reshape and transform architecture into an art of structural explication and spatial revelation. He is best known for cutting up derelict buildings scheduled for demolition, turning them into giant temporary installations or extracting fragments from them that he then exhibited as sculpture.
This show, organized by Antonio Sergio Bessa, the museum’s director of curatorial and education programs, and Jessamyn Fiore, an independent curator and co-director of the Gordon Matta-Clark Estate, is beautifully staged in separate capsules of work. It doesn’t attempt to give us a wide-angle view of Matta-Clark’s brief but prolific and extremely diverse career, barely a decade in length, which ended with his death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 35. It concentrates on his photographs and videos, seen in appropriately large projections, and the ways he constantly fused art and the documentation of art.
Nonetheless, the exhibition captures his restless intelligence and, most important, his relationship with the city and the urban landscape, which were sources of both inspiration and material. “Anarchitect” also indicates the freedom that the deterioration of the South Bronx in the 1970s granted him. Following the clarity of the exhibition’s staging, the focus here is on its main works or groupings.

‘Untitled (Anarchitecture)’ (1974)

Matta-Clark may or may not have known about the 1970 article “Towards Anarchitecture,” by the British architect and theorist Robin Evans, when he started using the subversive hybrid of anarchy and architecture in the mid-1970s, but it perfectly personifies his attitudes. The show begins with a piece consisting of 20 photographs, about half of them stock images of disasters seen from above. Installed outside the exhibition galleries, these visceral images introduce Matta-Clark’s sense of humor and his mordant eye for violent intersections of the built and natural worlds.
An image of a collapsed building at East Houston and Forsyth Streets is included in a Gordon Matta-Clark piece from 1974 titled “Untitled (Anarchitecture).”CreditEstate of Gordon Matta-Clark, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; David Zwirner and Electronic Arts Intermix, New York
The photographs show collapsed buildings and bridges, a housing development leveled by a tornado, train wrecks and floods. In one, cars crowd together on the ramped roadway of a railroad crossing, like rats clinging to driftwood. But the images taken by the artist deepen the mood of life irrevocably disrupted, especially in retrospect. In three, tombstones in a cemetery are seen from different angles. Another reveals the gap of space between the towers of the World Trade Center. And yet another was taken from one of the windows of Matta-Clark’s top-floor loft at 155 Wooster Street in SoHo, from which his twin brother would jump to his death in 1977. The image catches the large ink-black shadow of the building’s profile cast on West Houston Street.
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‘Substrait’ (1976)

Matta-Clark’s interest in tunneling through things is reflected in a series of tours he took with a few friends, armed with a video camera, along New York City’s subterranean network. Old railroad tracks beneath Grand Central Terminal, the crypt at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the 13th Street storm sewer and pumping station were among the sites visited. Documented by a series of murky video clips whose primary audio consists of the voices of different guides, they provide a heady sense of the artist’s daring and curiosity and a healthy dose of suspense, as if the Phantom of the Opera might be lurking.

‘Garbage Wall’ (1970)

Matta-Clark made his first “Garbage Wall” at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village in 1970. Originally conceived as the ephemeral set for a performance, it mixed garbage with concrete. But Matta-Clark soon saw that combination had possibilities for both cheap housing and communal art; either way it was something that could be made by anyone. For this exhibition, Jane Crawford, Matta-Clark’s widow and co-director of his estate (and Ms. Fiore’s mother), oversaw the Bronx Museum Teen Council in the making of a new, colorful “Garbage Wall” installed on the museum’s terrace.
Members of the Bronx Museum Teen Council made a new, colorful “Garbage Wall,” which is installed on the museum's terrace.CreditStefan Hagen

Bronx Graffiti (1973)

The show’s greatest revelation may be a grouping of about 30 photographs in black and white and, it seems, in color, that Matta-Clark took of graffiti on subway cars and walls and buildings in the South Bronx. They have never been exhibited in such abundance, and their delicacy and color enlivens the show, especially the close-ups of walls.
“Graffiti” (1973), from the South Bronx.CreditKeith Sonnier; Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; David Zwirner
“Graffiti E-Z 129,” from 1973.CreditEstate of Gordon Matta-Clark, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; David Zwirner
And even more when you realize the color images were actually hand-colored by Matta-Clark using an airbrush. They add a new twist to his penchant for interacting with the urban environment — though here he is adding rather than subtracting — and emphasize his gift for pictorial beauty. The close-up images of wall graffiti with added color tend to be the liveliest. Had Matta-Clark lived into old age, he might even have taken up other forms of painting, or at least built on these.

‘Bronx Floors’ (1972-73)

Some of Matta-Clark’s first interventions in the urban architectural fabric were the pieces of floor (including the beams and ceilings beneath them), roughly four-feet square, that he cut from abandoned buildings in the South Bronx.
Photographs show the stages of the making of Matta-Clark’s “Bronx Floor: Boston Road,” from 1973.CreditEstate of Gordon Matta-Clark, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; David Zwirner
Several photographs and photocollages document three of these extractions, and the show includes a single example, its only sculpture. “Bronx Floors,” from the Museum of Modern Art, is displayed on a pedestal against a wall, more like a relic than the still-shocking ready-made fragment that it is. It has deep turquoise linoleum with a gold quatrefoil pattern and two thresholds, suggesting that it lay at the juncture of three rooms.
“Bronx Floors” (1972-73), a building fragment of wood and linoleum, is among the works in the show.CreditEstate of Gordon Matta-Clark, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; David Zwirner

‘Day’s End’ (1975)

One of Matta-Clark’s long-gone masterpieces is “Day’s End,” a site-specific piece executed without permits on one of the decrepit piers on the Hudson River in the West Village, which then served mainly for assignations among gays. (Four photographs by Alvin Baltrop, who documented life on the piers, as well as “Day’s End,” hang nearby.) Matta-Clark was after light and water views. He cut a big semicircle through the corrugated steel end-wall of the piece. This half-moon, orange slice or primitive rose window was echoed, just inside the building, by a large quarter-circle cut through the heavy floor (but not the beams) to reveal the river below.
A short, sometimes alarming video provides glimpses of the artist, blowtorch in hand, working from what appears to be a large swing or small platform made of rope and plywood.
Last year the Whitney Museum unveiled plans to have David Hammons commemorate “Day’s End” with a full-scale steel outline of the old pier. Perhaps it should include the outlines of Matta-Clark’s cuts.

‘Conical Intersect’ (1975)

After New York City officials discovered “Day’s End,” Matta-Clark faced an arrest warrant and lawsuit. He hopped on a plane to Paris — where he had another obligation — and remained there until charges were dropped. For the ninth Paris Biennale, and with that city’s blessing and objections from both the left and the right, he tackled a large 16th-century building being demolished to make way for the Centre Pompidou. Its exoskeleton appears in the video that records the artist at work, assisted by Gerry Hovagimyan.
The result, “Conical Intersect,” was a giant tunnel that telescoped down through the building, widening as it went. It may be easier to grasp from some photo-collages here, but the video conveys the grandiosity of Matta-Clark’s vision, the fearlessness it required and the solidity of the building being torn apart; 16th-century floor beams are something to behold. Any sadness about the loss of this ancient structure may be complicated by the video’s final shot, showing a steam shovel knocking everything down, the brief “Matta-Clark” included.

‘Walls/Wallspaper’ (1972)

Matta-Clark’s relationship to the ephemeral and the passage of time is complex and was undoubtedly balanced by his use of cameras to document what he saw and did. In addition to graffiti, he was drawn to all sorts of architectural remnants, among them, interior walls exposed during demolition. The show includes a dozen black-and-white photographs of such, sometimes from one room, sometimes in multistoried clusters, all titled “Walls” and hanging in a grid.
“Walls,” from 1972, show interior walls exposed during demolition.CreditEstate of Gordon Matta-Clark, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; David Zwirner
Another image from the 1972 “Walls” series.CreditEstate of Gordon Matta-Clark, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; David Zwirner
Across the way, an enormous wall is covered with grainy versions of similar images from the series: offset lithographs printed on newsprint that repeat their forms in changing combinations of fruity plum, citrus and lime and evoke Andy Warhol. This is “Wallspaper,” first made to cover most of a large wall at 112 Greene Street in 1972 and reprinted for subsequent exhibitions.

‘Food’ (1971-74)

Near the show’s entrance, situated specifically in the museum’s cafe, a 60-minute video by Matta-Clark records mealtime at FOOD, the relaxed semi-communal restaurant, and artwork, that he and Carol Gooden founded, with other artists, on the corner of Wooster and Prince Streets in SoHo.
It was 1971 and the neighborhood was still a nexus of artistic experimentation. In perhaps his first architectural excision, Matta-Clark tore out the storefront’s walls to achieve an open-plan kitchen and exhibited one of the fragments as a sculpture at 112 Greene Street. In the video, you may recognize artists like Keith Sonnier, Tina Girouard, Richard Nonas and Suzanne Harris, as well as Matta-Clark himself.

“Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect” runs through April 8 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts; 718-681-6000,
Videos: Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; David Zwirner and Electronic Arts Intermix. Produced by Alicia DeSantis, Nicole Herrington and Ariana McLaughlin.
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page C21 of the New York edition with the headline: Radical, but Not Chic. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Murillo: The Selfies

A youthful self-portrait by Murillo, 1650-55, among the artist’s earliest known works. Credit The Frick Collection
Once upon a time, to depict yourself, you needed a paintbrush or a pencil; now, your phone’s front-facing camera will suffice. When untold millions of selfies bob across social networks each day, it’s natural to feel nostalgic for the old craft of self-portraiture, and the time and skill artists lavished on their own representations. But the old-school self-portrait and the newfangled selfie have common aims: Both are showcases of personal secrets, broadcasts of political allegiances, and, more than anything, great ways to grandstand.
Self-portraiture has long served as a promotional tool, and has rarely rewarded modesty. In 1433, Jan van Eyck painted himself with gemlike hardness wearing a red turban, then added the sarcastic caption “As Well as I Can,” as if anyone would doubt his skill. The even more conceited Albrecht Dürer, in 1500, went so far as to paint himself as a dishy, smoldering Jesus Christ. The Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, born on New Year’s Eve 400 years ago, also saw self-portraiture as a means to boast of his technical acuity. But later, for this artist of the Spanish Golden Age, the self-portrait became something else: a testimony to a life transformed.
Murillo painted two self-portraits, 15 to 20 years apart. One belongs to the National Gallery in London; the other joined the Frick Collection in 2014. They appear together for the first time in centuries in the fulfilling, tightly focused exhibition “Murillo: The Self-Portraits,” which also includes three other portraits, two complementary genre paintings, and a handful of related drawings and prints. (The show travels afterward to London, and its curators are Xavier F. Salomon, from the Frick, and Letizia Treves, of the British National Gallery.)
Murillo was the leading painter in 17th-century Seville, and most exhibitions of his work concentrate on his fleet-footed religious pictures, such as “The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables,” a vaporous image of the Madonna now at the Museo del Prado. Like his Madrid-based contemporary Diego Velázquez, he depicted saints and other holy figures as earthbound men and women, though Murillo’s religious works were tidier than Velázquez’s, more spectral, and (later in his career) more influenced by the soft curves and bright tones of Venetian painting.
Installation view of “Murillo: The Self-Portraits,” at the Frick Collection. Credit Michael Bodycomb/The Frick
Portraiture was a less common genre for him. Just over a dozen Murillo portraits survive. The younger self-portrait here, dated to around 1650-55, is among his earliest known works. The artist, aged 35 or so, appears in half-length semiprofile. His slightly kinked black hair hangs down to his shoulders, and his pallid skin is punctuated by arched eyebrows, a pencil mustache, and a graying goatee. The black jacket he wears has been slashed at the sleeves, revealing a puffy white undershirt, and a stiff collar known as a golilla peeks out from the neck. Most importantly, Murillo appears not in his studio or home, but within an oval cartouche cut out of a piece of chipped marble, of the sort you might find amid Seville’s many Roman ruins.
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What did it mean for Murillo to place himself in this wholly artificial marble box, and to undercut the naturalism he brought to depicting his own face? Mr. Salomon, in his catalog essay, notes that the false stone frame is wholly unique to this portrait, and neither his contemporaries nor later Spanish painters relied on such a device. (A separate technical essay attests that the background initially contained blue pigment; imagine, then, that Murillo first painted the block against an outdoor landscape.)
The marble has an ennobling function, sure — Murillo has literally inscribed his image onto the stones of the past. But the cartouche’s evident hollowness, not to mention Murillo’s modern dress, insists that the painter has invented this looking-glass marble object as a game or a provocation. It shows Murillo both as a self-conscious, thinking individual (in the manner René Descartes had theorized just a decade or so prior), and also as a relic of history, already worthy of the fame afforded to glories past.
This show offers two illuminating pairings for the youthful self-portrait. One is Murillo’s even earlier painting of Juan Arias de Saavedra, a young minister for the Spanish Inquisition, painted in 1650. Murillo painted Saavedra in an oval niche inside a gray stone frame. He appears stern and joyless, and the Latin inscription below affirms as much; he was “hard to the criminals” of the Inquisition, though also, once his day at the torture chamber was concluded, “a profound connoisseur of the liberal arts.”
“Juan Arias de Saavedra,” 1650. Credit Collection Duchess of Cardona
The second, even shrewder pairing here is a print from around 1626 that depicts the Count-Duke of Olivares, the top dog at the court of King Philip IV. The printmaker drew on a portrait by Velázquez for Olivares’s likeness, but he set the portrait in a frame bedecked with fruit, palm fronds, torches and horns and designed by Peter Paul Rubens. The young Murillo would have encountered ornate frames like this in important books from northern Europe, and his self-portrait inside a marble block draws not only on traditions of antiquity but on the more contemporary practice of printmaking.
Allegorical portrait of the Count-Duke of Olivares, circa 1626, by Paulus Pontius, after a portrait by Velázquez and a decorative design by Rubens. The print influenced Murillo’s own work. Credit National Gallery of Art, Washington
About 20 years after Murillo painted himself in that hunk of marble, he turned to the mirror again for a mature self-portrait that plays its own optical tricks. In the National Gallery’s self-portrait, circa 1670, the artist’s hair has grown thinner; the pencil mustache is flecked with white, and he’s developed a double chin. He appears fatigued, as if he has been working all night. Here, again, he appears in a stone cartouche, but this one, rather than pretending to come from antiquity, is smooth and round. Beneath the cartouche are a compass, a ruler, a palette, and paintbrushes, and his right hand sits on the bottom of the putative frame — a trompe-l’oeil show-off move of the first order.
A mature self-portrait, around 1670, plays optical tricks. Murillo’s right hand reaches out of the frame — a trompe-l’oeil show-off move of the first order. Credit The National Gallery, London
This is one of many self-portraits in Western art history that showcases the painter’s talent by advertising the fact of its own making. You could place it beside Rembrandt’s nearly contemporary “Self-Portrait With Two Circles,” in which the Dutchman painted himself in front of two perfect, can-you-top-this discs; William Hogarth’s 1745 “The Painter and His Pug,” in which the Englishman depicts himself in a painting-in-the-painting; or even Philip Guston’s 1969 “The Studio,” in which a hooded painter paints himself. The use of trompe-l’oeil also makes this later self-portrait of a piece with Murillo’s genre paintings, including the delightful “Two Women at a Window,” lent to the Frick from the National Gallery in Washington, in which the principal figure appears to lean out of the picture frame.
But just as much, the later Murillo self-portrait is a rejoinder to that earlier one — a courteous but resigned epistle from an older artist to his younger self. Once, Murillo had dreamed himself as a gentleman in the lineage of Roman heroes. The repeated device of the stone frame reaffirms that the artist’s haughtiness had not fully abated by his 50s. But age, work, family, politics: These have taken their toll on Murillo, and his right hand extends toward us as if he is desperate to make contact. Immortality is a young man’s delusion. The older artist has more modest goals, but wiser ones: To see and be seen is enough.

Meet Your Art Twin

Ross W. Duffin stumbled upon his art twin, a warrior from a 17th-century Jan van Bijlert painting. Many people intentionally set out in museums to find their doppelgängers. Credit Beverly Simmons

Ross W. Duffin was wandering through a museum in Pasadena, Calif., last summer when he paused before a 17th-century painting of a bearded warrior in armor.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that is really funny, he looks just like me,’” Dr. Duffin recalled. Then he moved on.
But his wife, Beverly Simmons, was stunned by the resemblance. “She came running after me and said, ‘You have to come back and look at this painting!” Dr. Duffin said.
Dr. Duffin had found his art twin. So the couple did what millions of people have discovered as a new way to interact with art — something that has exploded with new popularity in recent weeks thanks to a new feature in a Google museums app.
But Dr. Duffin and his wife were pioneers last summer, using old-fashioned serendipity. He stood next to the oil painting, a work by the Dutch artist Jan van Bijlert displayed at the Norton Simon Museum. He turned sideways, raised his chin and narrowed his eyes. His wife captured the moment with her iPhone.
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Long before the Google Arts and Culture app, which became the most downloaded mobile app over the weekend, art aficionados, dabblers, narcissists and soul searchers pondering a cosmic connection to distant humans have been searching for their art twins, a long-gone, sometimes fictional or unknown doppelgänger encased in oil, sculpture or ceramics.
Some set out specifically to find their twin, in an engaging pastime that gives museum visits a new focus. Others, like the Duffins, have stumbled on theirs as they wander.
As anyone who regularly looks at a social media feed knows by now, millions more need never leave home or cross a border to find that uniquely familiar face on some obscure etching. They just upload a selfie and let technology do the sleuthing.
The app was available in 2015, but its arts matching feature was introduced in mid-December. Its popularity has quickly surged, and Instagram, Twitter and YouTube users have widely shared photos of both their art twins and those of celebrities, from William Shatner to Taylor Swift. Google estimates more than 20 million selfies have been uploaded using the new feature.
Dr. Duffin said he was amused by his moment with the unknown soldier, described by the museum as probably a more mythological than human figure. But the resemblance had an impact on his life after he posted the photograph on Twitter, where it was widely shared without identifying him by name.
“A month later, all of a sudden, it started to get a lot of play in the press,” Dr. Duffin, a professor of music at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said in an interview. “I would get email messages from people I had not heard from in years who knew immediately it was me.”
With people seeking selfies that make a connection going back in time, museums are using the opportunity to engage with visitors.


Wesley Rowell with a sculpture of an unidentified man from the third century B.C. “To think about the lives, the generations, between him and me in New York City, is kind of bizarre,” Mr. Rowell said. Credit François Brunelle

Leslie C. Denk, a spokeswoman for the Norton Simon Museum, said the museum had noticed some visitors posting photographs of themselves posing like works of art, particularly alongside sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Aristide Maillol.
“Art has the power to transport us through time, and so I think it’s a joy to recognize ourselves, a friend or even a pet, in an artwork from centuries ago,” she said.
Art-twinning happens so often in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston that it hosts a fan favorite every week on Instagram. The most popular piece to pose with is “Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer,” a sculpture by Edgar Degas.
“In our galleries, visitors frequently seek out their museum doppelgänger or attempt to mimic works of art — usually as they search for the perfect Instagram shot,” said Katie Getchell, the deputy director and chief brand officer at the Boston museum.
At the Brooklyn Museum, selfies with artworks are also popular. “The success of Google’s project comes as no surprise to me, or probably to anyone else who works in a museum,” said Brooke Baldeschwiler, the museum’s senior manager of digital communications. “It’s really simple. People love to see themselves in art.”

If human beings are obsessed with selfies, then the Google Arts and Culture app is the addiction’s enabler for the art world. It does have its critics. Some people just find facial recognition software creepy, and the app is not available in Texas and Illinois, which have some of the country’s strictest laws about the collection of biometric data, including selfies. The app also has mixed results, particularly when it comes to race, gender and age.
“My grandmother got Ronald Reagan’s presidential portrait,” said Patrick Lenihan, a spokesman for Google.

Far from the virtual realm, Greco-Roman antiquities, Egyptian funerary portraits and the contemporary people who resemble them are being brought together in an exhibit in Canada called “My 2,000-Year-Old Double.”
The Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City has narrowed down thousands of selfies to a few dozen people who resemble the artworks, arranging for them to be photographed in Montreal by François Brunelle, whose previous projects include documenting people who look alike but are not twins.
Wesley Rowell, 57, who works in New York City, was one of them.
He will appear alongside his art twin, a sculpture of an unidentified man from the third century B.C.
“To think about the lives, the generations, between him and me in New York City, is kind of bizarre,” Mr. Rowell said. “I keep going back to that human need, to feel like I am connected to everything that was before me.”
Amanda Bullis, 29, an actor who lives in Jersey City, was chosen for her similarity to a face carved onto a vessel, dating between 300 and 201 B.C.


Amanda Bullis with a vessel dated between 300 and 201 B.C. She found it interesting, she said, that “I am part of a larger humanity that has been evolving and changing, but largely the same, over thousands of years.” Credit François Brunelle

Ms. Bullis sat for hours for hair and makeup. “In that moment I was able to embody her,” she said, adding that it made her think about her ancestry. “I just found it interesting that I am part of a larger humanity that has been evolving and changing, but largely the same, over thousands of years.”
Dr. Duffin, the Ohio professor, said he did not think much more about his art twin after he posed with the painting in California. He is accustomed, he added, to being mistaken for another bearded fellow.
Strangers often ask him, “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Santa Claus?” he said. “And my answer is, ‘Not since yesterday.’”
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