A few years ago, Afterall magazine, a quarterly based at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, started publishing a book series called “One Work,” each book focusing on a single influential work by a contemporary artist. Bruce Jenkins’s book on Conical Intersect is the 21st in the series, and arguably one of the most important.
Conical Intersect (1975) was a key work in the development of an artist who marks a generational transition from Minimalism and Earth Art to a more performative, theatrical, and ephemeral mode that remains extremely influential today. Matta-Clark had already created some of his most recognizable work (including Splitting (1974) a house with a seam cutting it in half, opening it to the light and air. Conical Intersect resulted from the artist’s invitation to show work at the Paris Biennale, and rather than show documentation of his previous work (which is what the Biennale expected) he pushed to create an urban intervention in the city of Paris.
Jenkins follows documents and films from the time to create a narrative of the gestation of the work that is compelling both as an evocation and a story. In the second half of the book, the author explores both the artists who influenced Matta-Clark and some of the specific influences that the artist still has on artists and on the art world.
Conical Intersect was a telescoping cone cut into a pair of buildings adjacent to then-under-construction Pompidou Center, and as such Matta-Clark’s work provided a viewing mechanism through which to appraise the architectural monumentality that was in the process of transforming the Les Halles neighborhood of Paris. Matta Clark saw his work as “non-u-mental” or “anarchitecture,” having himself been trained as an architect, after growing up in a family that included a famous father (Roberto Matta) and godfather (Marcel Duchamp).
Jenkins traces a coherent line of development leading to and through the “one work” that is the subject of his book, and in the process gives one of the best glimpses into the artist’s working process as well as the significance of his work. As the series editors state as the aim of the overall project, Gordon Matta-Clark: Conical Intersect indeed proves “that a single contemporary work of art…, through a unique and radical aesthetic articulation or invention, can affect our understanding of art in general,” and Matta-Clark is an ideal subject for such a demonstration.
Gordon Matta-Clark: Conical Intersect
By Bruce Jenkins
London: Afterall Books, 2011 (distributed by MIT Press)
112 pages, $16.00