213 people needed to get it together, keep it together

In the 1970’s, artist and architect, Gordon Matta-Clark bought 15 parcels of land, 14 in Queens and one in Staten Island. Auctioned off for prices as low as $25 dollars with $7 or $8 a year in taxes, Matta-Clark could peer through fences in some person’s backyard, point, and claim ownership to his own private “”gutterspace” – tiny, irregular, inaccessible or otherwise unusable parcels of land, the remnants of surveying errors or other zoning anomalies”.

Cabinet Magazine’s Odd Lots: Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark’s Fake Estates invited artist to think of creative ways to inhabit these Fake Estates, including an elaborate show of historical documents that trace the bureaucratic history of Queen’s County zoning irregularities. A 2-hour bus tour of Matta-Clark’s Fake Estates is led by a special tour guide to witness “magnificently mundane slivers of land” based on the premise that, “the land itself is not identical to the cultural devices that frame it—such as maps, deeds, and leases, or even artworks.”

Here is an aerial map and a schematic drawing (to scale) of Gordon Matta-Clark’s Fake Estates.

[Photo Credits: Cabinet Magazine]

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In 1971, with several artists and friends from the Anarchitecture group, Gordon Matta-Clark founded Food, a restaurant on the corner of Prince and Wooster Streets in Soho. The New York Times article, When Meals Played the Muse, calls Food an “artist’s utopia…a kind of perpetual dinner party but also a food-based philanthropy that would employ and support struggling artists”.

Rumor has it that it was Rauschenberg’s assistant, Hisachika Takahashi that was one of the first to serve sushi and sashimi in New York – a “raw mackerel with wasabi sauce”. NYU Food Studies professor Mitchell Davis and VP of the James Beard Foundation says that that many of the restaurant’s practices including open kitchens that served local and seasonal food were instrumental in creating a counterculture that transformed mainstream food culture. Eventually, it was financing that shuttered Food’s doors even though artist Tina Girouard says, “We put our hearts and souls and butts into that place.”

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[Expenses include: 1 cubic foot sage, 2 acres of mushrooms, 7 butterfly wings used to mend cuts and 213 people that needed to get it together, keep it together.]

In 1975, Gordon Matta-Clark cut away sections of the floor and ceiling of a cavernous warehouse on the Hudson abandoned by the city and repurposed by the gay community for cruising, S&M, and “unprecedented sexual and artistic experimentation”. By carving out the southern and western sides of the building, Matta-Clark’s vision was to turn Pier 52 into a “sun and water temple” by opening the interior to views of river and sky.

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.

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The Brooklyn Grange has reclaimed nearly 2.5 acres of land for rooftop farming: 43,000 sq ft in Queens and 65,000 sq. ft. in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Funded by government grants and crowd-sourcing, a group of activists and architects have created a communal space for good food. Reclaiming vacant lots and rooftops for the purpose of changing the food system is an act of intervention that disrupts the “static, inert building environment” whether the space is as tiny as a Fake Estate or a rooftop of a building the size of Pier 52.

In a review of White Column’s Odd Lots exhibit, art critic Michael Kimmelman says that Gordon Matta Clark’s cuttings were “…interested in the topology of absence: places physically unloosed, elegiac sites, intensely felt. They awaited his intervention, through which people might picture the city afresh, might reconsider notions of property and ownership and social exchange – the forces that govern our lives”.

1 Comment

  • More lovely historical and aesthetic context for your project! My comments on these posts, insightful though they are, are getting shorter ’cause I’m running out of time! 😉