One piece in the recent show of Gordon Matta-Clark's work, tilted Blast from the Past, 1972-73, consists of a vitrine containing a photographic fragment of a small pile of trash measured by a ruler, a reconstruction of the floor sweepings on the neutral white bottom of the display case, and these handwritten instructions: "Puzzle kit... contains all the parts necessary to recreate this compelling scene from history of my floor ... Just use this simple diagram to put everything in its proper place." The disjunction at the center of this work, the impossibility of following the instructions "to put everything in its proper place" if that means re-creating the specificity of that pile of trash, on that floor, in the SoHo of the early '70s, presents in concentrated form the dilemma surrounding the display of Matta-Clark's art: Not only have none of the artist's original site-specific incisions into the built environment survived to the present, but a fundamental condition of their existence was that they would eventually be destroyed.
The exhibition addressed this problem by re-creating Garbage Wall, 1970, reassembling the installation Wallspaper, 1972, from color offsets recycled from the original showing, and presenting fragments--the cart the artist used to dispense oxygen, a piece of his 1973 Graffiti Truck--as well as a number of smaller works (mostly photos of buildings in various states of demolition). The concept of waste as architecture was central enough to Matta-Clark that he built three versions of Garbage Wall: in St. Mark's Church, as a set for a performance; under the Brooklyn Bridge, where he filmed it for his 1971 short Fire Child, also on view here; and at 112 Greene Street, the alternative space he helped establish in the early '70s. Matta-Clark was interested in the social and historical implications of the built environment, and he once described his work as "non-umental, that is, an expression of the commonplace that might counter the grandeur and pomp of architectural structures and their self-glorifying clients." A wall of trash would be erected for a specific event and then returned to the Dumpster, leaving the most minimal trace on the physical world.
There is something uncanny about seeing the current re-creations so close to Matta-Clark's artistic home during his years in SoHo. Two blocks north of David Zwirner is the former site of 112 Greene Street, where the artist presented both his own work and numerous exhibitions and performances between 1970 and 1974. …