Collected Works: Art
by Gordon Matta-Clark
Architecture, public art
There was nothing at all remarkable about 332 Humphrey Street. It was a typical four-bedroom house nestled within a quiet suburb of New Jersey, indistinguishable from any other property on the block, scheduled for a demolition that would come and go without much notice. But before the bulldozers could reach it, Gordon Matta-Clark advanced on the building and, armed with an arsenal of power tools, sliced the house cleanly into two.
The result looks as if it has been cracked open by a supernatural force. The two halves stand perfectly suspended in space, while the rest of the structure appears undisturbed. The simplicity of the central cut belies the complex, labour-intensive process involved in the violent act of deconstruction. Yet, for all the blood, sweat, and tears shed over the course of its creation, there remains a restraint to Splitting; the cut leaves a void narrow enough that a passer-by may fail to notice it.
Photographs of the building’s interior reveal that Matta-Clark’s intervention left the space subtly unfamiliar. Intruding shafts of light emphasise the new spatial divisions, and the disturbance of everyday patterns of movement that would result. The house retains a level of functionality in spite of the seismic structural shift, but something beyond bricks and mortar feels amiss. In contemplating this sense of absence, the choice of a house as the object of Splitting becomes particularly pertinent.
The shelter that this building provides, after all, is not solely physical. Charged with meaning, it is a container that holds some of its inhabitants’ most profound personal experiences. With Splitting, though, Matta-Clark rips open the division between private and public space. The outside world seeps into a once-enclosed area, effecting a change that is both irrevocable and disconcerting. Cleaved in half, 332 Humphrey Street may have remained as a house, but it ceased to be a home.
Words by Katherine Fieldgate
More to discover
There are many articles available online about Gordon Matta-Clark, including those by Abdullah Saeed for The Creators Project, Olivia Edwards for The Culture Trip, and James Attlee for Tate. Nicolai Ouroussoff has reviewed a Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective exhibition for The New York Times.