Gordon Matta-Clark, Circus, 1978, Cibachrome, 40 × 30".

Gordon Matta-Clark, Circus, 1978, Cibachrome, 40 × 30".

Gordon Matta-Clark

Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Gordon Matta-Clark, Circus, 1978, Cibachrome, 40 × 30".

“The first thing that one notices is that violence has been done,” Gordon Matta-Clark said of his “anarchitectures,” the series of geometric cuts into buildings slated for demolition that he realized in the 1970s. “You see that light enters places it otherwise couldn’t.” Produced in January 1978 in a three-story brownstone soon to be converted into an annex of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Circus or The Caribbean Orange was the last project Matta-Clark completed prior to his untimely death in August of that year. It was also the artist’s only site-specific museum commission, complete with insurance and museum guards as guides, in a departure from previous illegal interventions within venues such as the abandoned warehouse on Manhattan’s West Side Highway used for Day’s End, 1975. True to the project’s dual name, Matta-Clark’s cuts into the Chicago building—which removed curved chunks of floor, wall, and ceiling such that the negative space formed a sort of sphere whose x-, y-, and z-axes were composed of the remaining infrastructure—called to mind both the sections of a peeled orange and the three rings of a circus. The artist saw the circle as a potent metaphor: “a place of activity, a circle for action.” Despite the work’s regulated geometric forms, Pamela M. Lee sees Circus as emblematic of Matta-Clark’s “projects that ‘theatricalize’ minimalist contingency” by confusing any intuition of order or totality while inside, producing “a state of perpetual vertigo.”

A selection of photographic works, artist’s books, and ephemera selected by Jessamyn Fiore and Rhona Hoffman, who collaborated previously on an exhibition of works related to the 112 Greene Street alternative space in SoHo, “Gordon Matta-Clark: Circus” recalled the role of the Chicago gallery (then operating as Young-Hoffman) in exhibiting photographic “storyboards” of the project in April and May of 1978. Collage for Exhibition Installation and #15 from the Circus Book, both 1978, consist of photographs of Circus assembled into disorienting hybrids and mounted on mat board. For this recent occasion, the previously exhibited works were juxtaposed with a set of Matta-Clark’s darkroom collages from the same period. The Cibachrome silver dye bleach prints (all 1978) are mostly titled Circus—one is titled Circus or Caribbean Orange—and were created by cutting up and reassembling color negatives, adding small pieces of red, green, and purple tissue paper, and then enlarging the composite prior to printing. Ostensibly documentation of the MCA project, the collages, with their additional layers of mediation, complicate the beholder’s spatial understanding of the photographs, echoing what would surely have been a phenomenologically stirring, even dizzying viewing experience of the an architecture itself.

The complex relationship between Matta-Clark’s canonical pieces, their documentation, and the artist’s own anticipation and manipulation of his work’s historicization has been broached before. Lee is dismissive of the collages and cites the distaste of Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner (who reportedly fell, unharmed, through one of the cuts in Circus) despite endorsing Matta-Clark’s own claim that “the sacred photo framing process is equally violatable” to that of the preexisting architectures he rent and altered. Lee prefers the “straight” photographs presented in book projects such as Splitting, 1974, which was included at the Rhona Hoffman show, because they “describe the limits of their own format” and paradoxically reinforce the inability of the viewer to fully make sense of Matta-Clark’s installations either firsthand or at a remove. Yet the works that were on display, in addition to serving as testaments to the artist’s sustained and highly critical engagement with the medium of photographic collage, suggest quixotic attempts to elide such limits between found site and indexical record.

Daniel Quiles