As an undergraduate, Gordon Matta-Clark took courses in architecture and urban planning, and the body of work he would go on to produce stands as an important intervention in both fields. A fixture on the early 1970s downtown Manhattan art scene that coalesced around the alternative exhibition space 112 Greene Street and the artist-staffed restaurant Food (of which he was a founder), Matta-Clark carried out a poetic investigation of the complex relationships between the built environment and the social environment. His revolutionary projects highlighted the significance of various industrial and commercial structures in the United States and Europe, showing them to be compelling even though-and perhaps because-they had lost or were losing value.
Splitting, the most iconic of Matta-Clark's "extractions," is one such structure. Matta-Clark's dealers, Horace and Holly Solomon, owned this house at 322 Humphrey Street in Engelwood, New Jersey. It was slated for demolition, and for four months the artist tore into the structure with a chainsaw, bisecting it with two parallel cuts, gutting its interior, and setting half of it back, at an angle, on its cinderblock foundations. Visitors traversing the fractured space experienced the dramatic play of light and shadow, interior and exterior, surface and void. The very ephemerality of Splitting-the knowledge that the structure would soon be gone-was integral to its meaning and effect. These photographs, all that is left now, constitute a poignant record of Matta-Clark's achievement.