The definition of anarchism, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is “a political theory which is skeptical of the justification of authority and power.” The work of Gordon Matta-Clark which is currently on display at the Bronx Museum of Arts is intended to be the intersection of anarchy and architecture, an exhibition titled accordingly Anarchitect.
When one thinks of architecture, one often thinks of physical structures. Especially as New Yorkers, we picture the structures that envelope our everyday life – skyscrapers, apartment buildings, subway stations. Gordon Matta-Clark, as an artist, looked at those same structures and created work that contemplated how structured political systems, such as a local and/or federal government, influence the structuring of everyday physical spaces.
Walking into the Anarchitect exhibit at the Bronx Museum of Arts, the first thing that caught my attention was the paper cut outs of graffiti-covered subway carts wrapped around the exhibit rooms white walls. Below the wallpaper-like display were framed zoomed-in graffiti prints, leaving the location of the graffiti’s original placement ambiguous.
I have always had a special interest in graffiti art; it’s relationship with systemic structures, and our relationship with graffiti as Bronx dwellers. We see graffiti everywhere, on everything and I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think much of it on an everyday basis.
That being said, it was back in 2016, when I first read the words of Charles “Chaz” Bojórquez, in the March 2016 publication of Poetry that I began to think about the significance of graffiti in the lives of people who grew up and live in disenfranchised neighborhoods.
That Bojórquez quote immediately came into mind when walking around the Matta-Clark’s exhibit, an exhibit where graffiti was displayed as art – graffiti displayed as work worth being framed. This quote is followed by the thought of my local subway station, the Kingsbridge station off of the D line, and the amount of times I’ve seen graffiti come and go through the years – painted over hastily and mostly carelessly with white paint.
And in contrast, I consider the graffiti lined streets of gentrified Brooklyn that tourists and transplants take selfies in front of them for their Instagram pages. It is with these two images in mind, the Anarchitect exhibit I am left with questions about who has the authority to decide what graffiti is covered and which is displayed. What structures – what social, political and economic structures – have a role in deciding what gets to stay and what gets to go in our neighborhoods? That question is not limited to graffiti – but expands to our local shops, apartment buildings and schools.
It is interesting to note that while Gordon Matta-Clark is on display in museums – the Anarchitect exhibit will be traveling to Paris, Estonia and Massachusetts after its stay at the Bronx Museum of Arts – the graffiti in the Bronx has continued to cover the structures of our borough. And faceless authorities continue to paint over what Bojórquez would call the bruises of our city.
That being said, Gordon-Matta Clark’s work is a portfolio worth being displayed. His work is politically charged and potent with social significance – holding a specific weight by being displayed within the walls of the Bronx Museum of Art in the South Bronx.
Gordon Matta-Clark’s work considered the relationship between what is constructed and what is destroyed. Besides graffiti, Matta-clark focused on the architecture that filled the South Bronx. As written as a precursor to the exhibit, speaking of Matta-Clark’s work with the demolished buildings of the Bronx, the exhibit wall reads “Like an urban archeologist he captured these remnants of by-gone habitation, peeling paint and residual wallpaper, evidence of the structure’s obsolesce as ‘home’.” It is through this description that we can begin to understand how physical structures such as an apartment building and abstract ideas such as the concept of home intersection, specifically for disenfranchised communities.
Throughout his work and throughout the exhibit, the common thread is turning abstract ideas on their heads. By looking at how destruction and abandonment interact with physical structures, populations and systemic structures such as a local government that leaves behind a whole borough to fend for itself, Gordon Matta-Clark demands us to look closely at the spaces around us. In turn, he asks his audience to consider the ways physical structures speak to the abstract structure of our everyday lives. From subway stations, apartment buildings and the skyscrapers around us, from graffiti in the Bronx and graffiti in Brooklyn, these spaces speak volumes for how our social circumstances are constructed and deconstructed.
If you’re interested in experiencing the Bronx in a new way, from the lens of an artist who brought attention to the aching bruises that filled and continue to fill the physical structures of our borough, I recommend visiting the Anarchitect exhibit, displaying at the Bronx Museum of Arts until April 8th, 2018. There, you can see for yourself, the intersection of anarchy and architecture from the eyes of Gordon Matta-Clark.