Originally Published in NewCity
In 1978, the Museum of Contemporary Art commissioned artist Gordon Matta-Clark to execute one of his trademark “building cut” projects in a recently acquired brownstone on Ontario Street. The result, “Circus or The Caribbean Orange,” a series of large-scale circular lacerations that radically altered the structure’s interior, would sadly be the artist’s last major statement before his untimely death at age thirty-five. What remains of the epic scale of this ephemeral project are a series of the artist’s captivating photocollages.
While not explicitly political, even at thirty-six years old the cut-and-pasted images that comprise Matta-Clark’s “Circus” form a multi-layered suite that seems to respond directly to today’s chaotic environment of contradictory experience (record drought in California, 110 inches of snow in Boston, “freedom” bills which provide cover for discrimination, etc.) and intentionally destabilized perceptions.
Consequently it can seem impossible to form a coherent narrative of the world, and yet Matta-Clark’s photographic work does precisely that by rendering contradictory physical spaces in which one is simultaneously inside and out, below and above, left and right into photo-images that create spaces that are credible and yet impossible to experience in the real world. By freezing the dizzying motion of the world-inside-a-brownstone that Matta-Clark himself created, these images provide the viewer space and distance, a restorative calm in a world spinning out of control.
The palliative qualities of these pieces are enhanced by rich, though subtle allusions to art’s history. The judicious use of black and white, red and yellow, read as nods to Kazimir Malevich and Russian Suprematism, while the overarching form of these works echo earlier pieces by Robert Rauschenberg. I’ve often found contemporary art’s over-reliance on presenting the distortions of lens-based media as the documentation of reality problematic, and as such have never much cared for the form. But in “Circus” the individual photo achieves the status of mark and their contribution to the unity achieved by the whole is, like the entire exhibition, thoroughly engaging.