The 25 Works of Art That Define the Contemporary Age | Modern Society of USA

The 25 Works of Art That Define the Contemporary Age

The 25 Works of Art That Define the Contemporary Age

Gordon Matta-Clark (b. New York City, 1943; d. 1978) trained as an architect at Cornell University. By the 1970s, he was working as an artist, cutting chunks out of vacant properties, documenting the voids and exhibiting the amputated bits of architecture. Abandoned buildings were easy to find at the time — New York City was economically depressed and crime-ridden. Matta-Clark was looking for a new site when the art dealer Holly Solomon offered him a house she owned in suburban New Jersey that was slated for demolition. “Splitting” (1974) was one of Matta-Clark’s first monumental works. With the help of the craftsman Manfred Hecht, among other assistants, Matta-Clark sliced the whole thing in two with a power saw, then jacked up one side of the structure while they beveled the cinder blocks beneath it before slowly lowering it back down. The house cleaved perfectly, leaving a slender central gap through which the sunlight could enter the rooms. The piece was demolished three months later to make way for new apartments. “It was always exciting working with Gordon,” Hecht once said. “There was always a good chance of getting killed.”

TLF: Why is there no land art?

RT: I have Gordon Matta-Clark.

MR: Is that land art? “Spiral Jetty” [the giant coil of mud, salt and basalt constructed in 1970 at Rozel Point, Utah, by the American sculptor Robert Smithson] is land art.

TT: That’s crazy! The jetty 100 percent has to be on my list.

KT: “The Lightning Field” [a 1977 work by the American sculptor Walter De Maria comprising 400 stainless steel poles staked in the New Mexico desert], “Roden Crater” [the American light artist James Turrell’s still-in-progress naked-eye observatory in Northern Arizona].

TT: I thought, “Who can see it? What does ‘influence’ mean, what does it mean to be influenced through seeing something on a screen?” I was thinking, “Do I list what I’ve seen versus what I’ve obsessed over?” At that point, it’s all a reproduction or a sort of theatrical representation.

MR: Totally.

CreditCourtesy of the estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner

TT: I put Michael Asher’s show in the Santa Monica Museum [No. 19, see below] but with something like that — once it’s gone, it’s reproduction only. You can’t visit it, it doesn’t move somewhere else.

TLF: Are the questions that the land artists were asking — are they no longer questions we’re asking today?

TT: There’s no more land.

MR: It’s a really interesting question. It’s mainly that, because of the move to the cities, we’ve become urban-obsessed. The pastoral question — which also applies to the cities, though we’re not that aware of it — has receded. But am I wrong that the land-art stuff was also in Europe? There were Dutch artists and English artists.

RT: Yeah, there were. Still are.

MR: Land art was international in an interesting way, which coincided with the Blue Marble [an image taken of Earth in 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17].

TLF: The Whole Earth Catalog.

MR: Sure. The idea of the whole earth as an entity made up of actual stuff rather than a social space.

RT: Maybe it also has to do with this idea of property and wealth, too. The value of land and what it’s used for has changed. It used to be you could just go out in Montana and probably —

MR: Bury some Cadillacs.

RT: — dig a big hole. I mean, Michael Heizer still does stuff, but it’s only interior now. He’s just doing big rocks inside a space. Then again, that’s why Smithson is interesting, because it’s almost like the non-site now [Smithson used the term “non-site” to describe works that were presented outside their original context, such as rocks from a New Jersey quarry exhibited in a gallery alongside photos or maps of the site where they came from].

TLF: Then why did you include Gordon Matta-Clark?

RT: There are many references for me, but I feel like “Splitting” hits all the other things that I’m thinking about. With “Splitting,” it’s like a comic ending. Also, the idea of the house divided and what’s happening with domesticity — people aren’t able to sit together at Thanksgiving anymore.

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