The artist Gordon Matta-Clark used neglected structures slated for demolition as his raw material. He carved out sections of buildings to reveal their hidden constructions, to provide new ways of perceiving space, and to create metaphors for the human condition. By placing these sections, known as “cuts,” within Tadao Ando’s architecture, this exhibition not only presented new ways to think about both the artist and the architect, but also invited questions concerning the social, political, and geographical circumstances that give architecture its meaning. Moreover, the Pulitzer’s exhibition and community programming built upon Matta-Clark’s desire to give abandoned objects and buildings new life by connecting the artist’s social activism to present-day St. Louis.
Little remained after the demolition of Matta-Clark’s sculpted buildings, which is in part why the artist creatively documented his own work through photography, film, and video. Of this archive, Urban Alchemy included over forty photographs and two of his films, “Fire Child” and “Conical Intersect,” which provided means to better understand the aspects of performance in Matta-Clark’s art. Among the “cuts” that he retained, the Pulitzer installed a section of an apartment floor; three parts of a house near Love Canal; a window from an abandoned warehouse on a pier in New York City; and four corners from the roof of a house in New Jersey.
Matta-Clark’s poetic and daring involvement with the urban fabric did much to represent and reinterpret abandoned buildings and places. In presenting the first exhibition of his work in St. Louis, the Pulitzer also collaborated on innovative programming with the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, which aimed to critically address and affect the state of St. Louis’ neighborhoods. Based on Matta-Clark’s original concept, the fabrication of Garbage Wall for this exhibition was a community-based project that engaged local students and groups to work with the Pulitzer in new ways.