Gordon Matta-Clark

Walls Paper


Not on display

Gordon Matta-Clark 1943–1978
72 offset lithographs on newsprint paper
Overall display dimensions variable
support, each: 860 × 576 mm
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of Jane Crawford, 2016


Wallspaper is a multi-part installation comprising photographs and newsprint, which Gordon Matta-Clark presented at the artist-run space 112 Greene Street in New York in 1972. Earlier that year, he took various black and white photographs of derelict and semi-demolished project houses in the Bronx and the Lower East Side of New York City. As only the facades of the buildings had been taken down, the photographs reveal the interior walls of the houses. Some of these walls were covered in paint that was flaking away; other walls were covered in wallpaper. Matta-Clark used the photographs to create his installation. First he heightened the colours of the photographs to abstract the images of the derelict houses. Next he printed the photographs on long strips of newspaper and hung these strips on a large wall from ceiling to floor. The wall consequently looked as if it were ‘wallpapered’ with images derived from walls in another part of New York City. The installation also included a stack of newspaper booklets which viewers were able to take away. These booklets were made of individual sheets of newspaper, each presenting one photograph of the Bronx walls. A number of the original black and white photographs from which the installation derived also survive (see Walls 1972, Tate L03014–L03016). In 1973 Matta-Clark published an artist’s book entitled Wallspaper (Tate L03017) in which he reproduced the coloured prints that he had made from the original black and white photographs.

Matta-Clark only presented Wallspaper once during his lifetime, and the long strips of newspaper hanging from the wall were destroyed some time after the Greene Street show. The work now consists of seventy-two individual sheets that had originally been in the bundles of newspapers placed in front of the wall.

There are several different ways to display the work. One is to pin all of the seventy-two original sheets from 1972 to the wall in a grid. A second way is to make copies of the seventy-two sheets and pin these copies to the wall in a grid. A third way is to make copies of the sheets, print them on long strips of newspaper and then hang them from ceiling to floor to replicate the 1972 installation. All of these presentations may or may not be accompanied by a stack of newspapers, derived from the seventy-two sheets, for viewers to take away. However, it is not necessary to include this stack in order to present the piece.

Wallspaper was one of the first works in which Matta-Clark’s interests in photography come together with his explorations of the built environment. For art historian Thomas Crow, the crucial significance of the work is the way in which the photographs distort the images of derelict housing, and therefore conjure a space of reverie. Crow implies that the piece produces a new means of representing dilapidated architecture, quite distinct from traditions of socially-concerned documentary photography in New York City:

He hung strips of paper printed with close-up photographs of peeling and crumbling walls from derelict buildings in the Bronx and Lower East Side. With the delicacy of watercolour or Japanese prints, he subjected cropped and enlarged segments of his photographs to a newly free manipulation of colour and tone. [The work] registered a gritty streetscape while simultaneously conjuring some other, imagined space closer to reverie and dream. While another bundle of prints lay on the floor as an object analogue, the cascade descending from the ceiling points to [Matta-Clark’s] growing readiness the manipulate the photographic document in the direction of suggestion and secondary illusion.
(Crow 2003)

Art historian Pamela Lee has a different approach to the work. For her, what is most interesting is the way in which Matta-Clark transposed images of one set of buildings onto the walls of another building. Encountering the piece involved not only thinking about the buildings pictured on the newspaper strips, but the building in Greene Street where the work was presented, and the relationship between the gallery and the derelict house. Lee has written:

Picturing the exposed walls of lower income housing, the photographs present the buildings’ ruinous state as a gridded, blank-faced visage. [At Greene Street] Matta-Clark registered an acute correspondence between walls and wallpaper, not unlike the floorpieces exhibited before. Its effect was to throw the still functioning site of the gallery into a certain relief, locating the outmodedness of a building elsewhere by reproducing the structures of its walls on another building’s surface. As such, the relationship between the respective sites was not conditioned simply by the place of art and architecture, but by the uneven temporalities of both. The timeliness of each building – one now ‘alive’, the other now ‘dead’ – spoke to the virtual ‘speed’ of the built environment, the endlessly fluctuating historicity of its architecture.
(Lee 2000)

Much of Matta-Clark’s work addresses public space and the built environment, often drawing attention to the ways in which architects failed to address the housing crisis in New York in the 1970s. Having trained as an architect himself, he created an artistic practice that targeted this discipline. His best known works are the ‘cuts’ into buildings which he made in New York, New Jersey and in Europe. These actions led to related films, photocollages, drawings, and sculptures.

Further reading
Pamela Lee, Object To Be Destroyed, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2000.
Thomas Crow, Corinne Diserens, Christian Kravagna and others, Gordon Matta-Clark, London 2003.
Elisabeth Sussman (ed.), Gordon Matta-Clark: You Are the Measure, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 2007.

Mark Godfrey
October 2010

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Display caption

In New York City in the early 1970s, Gordon Matta-Clark photographed half-demolished public housing buildings in the Bronx, showing the exposed wallpaper and peeling painted walls. The photographs were manipulated and colour-toned, then printed on newspaper sheets and hung to cover the wall of 112 Greene Street, the independent space he ran in SoHo. While raising questions about inequality in New York City and the relationship between two kinds of interiors and areas of the city, the near-abstraction of Walls Paper is very far from traditional documentary photography.

Gallery label, July 2015

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like