No where can be now here

Spyros Papapetros on patrimony and patronage

Roberto Matta-Echaurren to Gordon Matta-Echaurren, 9 January, 1962. Envelope. PHCON2002:0016:016:058, Gordon Matta-Clark Collection, CCA Collection. Gift of Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark © Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark

Letter from Roberto Matta-Echaurren to his son Gordon [later known as Gordon Matta-Clark], postmarked 9 January, 1962:

Dearest Gordy:
            A big happy and meaningful new year—
Since you seem to feel that your life
has become a senseless driving from here
to nowhere—you need an end, let it be architecture
        (remember that no where can be now here).
About next summer, I hope you have not
dilapidated the money of your ticket, let
me know how you stand, so that we can see you here.
        Did you ever call on Marcel Breuer, the
architect, he is a very good friend of mine
and he was assistant to Gropius at the architecture
school at Yale.
        Phillip [sic] Johnson, too, is a friend, call on
him you can get his address at the Museum or
telephone book.
        If you are definite [sic] decided I can
write them directly, get me their address–
      Who may give you very good advice is
Frederick Kiesler, he lives very close from your
home, 7th Av and 14th St, call him and ask
for an appointment, he is a very intelligent man, go
in my name we were very good friend [sic] once.
    Write me soon, my love to you. Matta.

Matta’s letter can be found in a dossier of original documents, previously in the possession of Gordon’s mother Anne Alpert Clark, and now annexed to the Matta-Clark Estate and deposited in the special collections of the CCA. Matta’s letters to the family he had abandoned a few months after his twin sons were born, as well as Gordon’s letters to his mother from his student days at Cornell, are a valuable testimony to the triangular family tectonics that may have supported the career of an itinerant anarchitect.

Matta’s fatherly advice implies that architecture comes with the sanction of paternal authority and the benefaction of the father’s renowned architect friends. They, and perhaps not the architecture school, represent, for Matta, his son’s real schooling in architecture. The same month of January 1962, Matta sent a letter to Josep Lluís Sert, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, who wrote back three weeks later saying that he “would be glad to see [Matta’s] son if he comes to Cambridge,” but notes that “[u]ntil now,” he had “not received any communication” from him.1 Later that year, Gordon would accept an offer from Cornell.

Architecture, as Matta suggests, comes as a temporary “end,” an intermediate station from here to “no where” that can be “here” and “now.” Matta transforms a term that stands for the lack of orientation into a two-way street or roundabout via a gesture of Joycean word-splitting. Yet by the same wordplay, “nowhere” becomes coterminous with a career path in architecture, which Matta encourages his son to follow. The entire letter reads as a roadmap for a trip to “nowhere,” wrapped as a father’s gift and sent in response to one of Gordon’s own New Year’s resolutions.

  1. Josep Lluís [signed Jose Luis] Sert, Office of the Dean, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, to M. S. Matta [see Roberto Antonio Sebastián Matta-Echaurren], Paris, France, February 15, 1962. PHCON2002:0016:016, Gordon Matta-Clark Collection, CCA Collection. 

Roberto Matta-Echaurren to Gordon Matta-Echaurren, 9 January, 1962. PHCON2002:0016:016:058, Gordon Matta-Clark Collection, CCA Collection. Gift of Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark © Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark

While admonishing his son for his “senseless driving,” Matta contemplates that architecture might put an “end” to his destructive habits, implying that architecture training can perform as a corrective mechanism to steer the senseless driver, who would turn nineteen later that year, towards a more “meaningful” career trajectory. Indeed, Gordon often got into trouble behind the wheel, but evidently architecture school did not fix this problem. Less than a year after he matriculated at Cornell, a grave car accident prompted an escape to Paris and an unrealized plan to enroll in film school; yet, following a brief internship in an architecture office in Rome in the summer of 1964, the rebellious student returned to Ithaca to resume his architectural studies, and eventually graduated from Cornell four years later.1

Patrimony and patronage are almost identical in this case. Matta, the pioneer of Surrealist architecture, former apprentice of Le Corbusier, collaborator with Gropius and Moholy-Nagy, friend of Alvar Aalto, and then artist who essentially renounced architecture in the first decade of his career, now makes an oblique return via the career path of his son.

Matta liked baptisms: he held parties to name his paintings. Apparently, he would do the same several times with his living offspring. If Duchamp’s wife Teeny was indeed Gordon’s godmother as an infant, then Breuer, Johnson, and Kiesler, Matta’s New York architect friends mentioned in this letter, are the designated godfathers launching Gordon’s career as an/architect in his adult life. Little did these avuncular figures know that their protégé would devote his later practice to eroding the very foundations on which his decision to commit to architecture had originated.

Even if Gordon had not “dilapidate[d] the money” Matta claims to have sent for his return ticket to the patrimonial abode that year, the artist’s son would later on methodically demolish, slice, and subvert the institutional basis of his father’s original vocation and reinvent its operation as a process of continuous expenditure. The destination of anarchitecture was perhaps not mapped in the directions Matta drafted in his New Year’s letter to his offspring; it was instead Gordon’s own addition of a bypass to architecture’s bifurcating path to “nowhere.”

  1. See excerpts from the letters sent by Gordon to his mother Anne Clark in April 1964, quoted in my review of The Films of Gordon Matta-Clark. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 67, no. 4 (2008): 629–633.  


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