Plans of Resistance: Gordon Matta-Clark’s Fake Estates

4-16

The Ooz

April 11, 2019

The premature passing of an artist signals a loss of intellectual potential but also the rousing of speculative projection within the art world. When Gordon Matta-Clark (GMC) succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1978 at the early age of 39, he had made the seven building cuts that form the core of his influence in the arts and architecture, but his eventual stature
was to be confirmed.

As an example, the files for Fake Estates, a project in which GMC purchased 13 micro-parcels in Queens, New York, collected their attendant documents and tax receipts, and photographed the lots, idled in a closet for nearly 18 years. It became the role of the curator, historian, and viewing subject to narrativize Fake Estates upon its posthumous publicization at the 1992 IVAM exhibit in Valencia, assembled by his widow, the writer and filmmaker Jane Crawford.[1]

Matta-Clark’s leftover spaces, as with his very process of  land accumulation, are often positioned as commentary upon systems of land use, valuation, and speculation. The tiny parcels, some smaller than two square feet, highlight inconsistencies within an omnipresent, continuous land-use structure that comprise the framework of capitalism. In an effort to maximize the bureaucratic management and subdivision of space, the system undermines its own totalizing logic. Some residual spaces were not worth optimizing and therefore became invisible as the mechanics of the city, in its insatiable hunger for real estate (versus land), grew outwards and upwards. The tiny lots manifest as ruptures within the capitalist Gesamtkunstwerk. Perhaps more telling is that the city reacquired the lots in lieu of collecting taxes after GMC’s death. Though unserviceable, the parcels remained privileged for their fiscal status: land is capital, no matter the size.

GMC was trained as an architect at Cornell. He participated in—and doggedly protested—the many practices and channels of architectural production, including a “visceral” installation at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies [2]. Perhaps best known for his volumetric interventions in which he cut, erased, and displaced built matter, Fake Estates specifically activates a no-less significant—for some the primary—architectural instrument: the plan. In working architecturally, GMC made ideas simultaneously in two-dimensional drawings and three-dimensional space. His real estate documents employ a series of notational systems, namely those conventions pertaining to planimetric projection, which delimit spatial boundaries and serve as a means of information exchange. Within real estate practice, the plan manifests as both the expression and document of capital; it is legal and speculative at the same time. In Fake Estates, GMC instrumentalizes the plan for its resistive potential: it asserts a border and legitimizes the space within, at once participating in the process of spatial subdivision while destabilizing the apparatus of land speculation. In other words, GMC’s tiny lots resist the production of capital as they thwart its total spatial conquest. His plans, and the spaces they represent, are interstices within the economic ooze of the city.

[1] de Monchaux, Nicholas. “The Death and Life of Gordon Matta-Clark.” AA Files 74 (2017): 183–199.
[2] Richard, Frances. “Spacism,” Places Journal, March 2019. Accessed 06 Apr 2019. https://doi org/10.22269/190305