The Artschwager Variant: Alden Projects™ Discovers Unique Book by Gordon Matta-Clark

Gordon Matta-Clark
Untitled (Artschwager Variant of Walls paper) (n.d. ca. 1973)
30 leaves printed in colors on heavy white newsprint-type paper with stapled, photographic covers on card stock: two double-length pages folded in half (running in opposite directions); one single-length page folded in half; one page cut horizontally; one page cut in half
8 ¼ x 5 1/8 (dimensions of covers). Signed by Gordon Matta-Clark (and also for Carol Goodden) and inscribed with dates to Richard Artschwager.


From the library of Richard Artschwager, Alden Projects™ unpacks a previously unknown variant of Gordon Matta-Clark’s Walls paper (1973), his only artist’s book. The Artschwager variant differs substantially from the known version of Walls paper, printed by Buffalo Press in 1973. Smaller in scale, this intimate, hand-assembled variation employs 30 leaves of colored photographic images on heavy white newsprint; (the Buffalo Press version contains ca. 72 leaves split horizontally in halves). This variant differs not only in its abbreviated size and length, however, but also in the lay-out. Also unique to this book, significantly, are Matta-Clark’s hand-alterations, including cuts and folds not otherwise present in the Buffalo Press version. Three pages are folded (two double-length pages are folded in opposite directions and one page is folded, surprisingly, half-way in half). Two pages are split and cut: one page is sliced in half horizontally, while another, more surprisingly, is cut vertically, causing a removal of a half the page. The latter cuts and folds alter the viewer’s/reader’s address of the book. Instead of placing the cuts between the sheets (as he does in the Buffalo Press book), Matta-Clark splits selected pages of the paper itself.  The unexpected addition of small folds, moreover, is somewhat reminiscent of the confounding, photographic “extra flap” on Ruscha’s Thirty-Four Parking Lots (1967). There is, however, a kind of purposive symmetry to the sum of Matta-Clark’s cuts and folds.

The Artschwager variant, therefore, is a unique--and uniquely personal--a book made by one artist (Matta-Clark) for another (Artschwager) whose architectural interests were commonly held and whose work, particularly during the 1970s, represented a shared exploration of the fragmentation and expansion of architectural concerns. The personal dedication by Matta-Clark (who interestingly, also signs for Carol Goodden, Matta-Clark’s co-founder of Food in 1971 and the artist’s girlfriend at the time) to Artschwager is executed in the manner of a drawing incorporating the structure of a dreamy, math equation; it also unfolds, however, into an expanding, yet specific dialectical proposition. It transliterates roughly as: “Best wishes/ 2u{4 {73-‘74} + now/infinity sign / Carol & Gordon;” (A trail of dots following the inscription descends in the direction of an “x” near Gordon’s name). The dedication, both truncated and expansive, re-duplicates the strange architecture of the artist’s alterations to the book itself.

The association in the inscription between Matta-Clark and Gooden also bears further consideration. Matta-Clark’s cutting--according to Joan Simon (friend and printer/publisher of Buffalo Press’ Walls paper)--began at Food.  The fact that Carol Goodden is included in Matta-Clark’s dedication to Artschwager conveys personal, artistic, and perhaps architectural significance.  Simon remembers the following:
While we were putting Food together, there was a piece of wall that had to come out. Gordon decided to cut himself a wall-sandwich: he cut a horizontal section through the wall and the door and fell in love with it. And so the cutting pieces began. But in between the first cut and next few came Wallspaper (1972).
To underscore Simon’s suggestion about Walls papers’ (in)extricable connections with architecture and Food, Matta-Clark’s resumĂ© lists a 1972 exhibition at 112 Greene Street titled “Walls paper, Bronx Floors and Food.”  
Matta-Clark’s preoccupation with altering and re-casting the displacement of walls paper arrived in various forms and various contexts, though it seems clear that not all have survived the dustbin of history. The world awaits a better accounting of the rich and varied material history of Matta-Clark’s Walls paper prior to the publishing of the Buffalo Press version of the book (1973). Tate Curator, Mark Godfrey writes about the “multi-part installation” of Walls paper (which again, to be clear, preceded the eponymous Buffalo Press book in 1972) involved newsprint, photographs, and booklets): “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.” Godfrey’s unitary account (apparently referring to the 1972 installation at 112 Greene Street in October-November, 1972), however, is seemingly contradicted by a contemporary record discovered by Alden Projects™ in “The Poetry Project Newsletter” (Number 2, January 1, 1972, p. 7), edited by Ron Padgett. (Padgett collaborated with Joan Simon around this time). In addition to mentioning other news from Buffalo Press, the newsletter reads: “And finally, Walls paper by Gordon Matta-Clark: wallpaper of walls, in color, recently on display at the N.Y. Cultural Center and on an 80 foot wall at 112 Greene Street. Prices: by the roll, $1.50 per yard; $1 per sheet; sample books, $2. The artist will install it in your home or office: estimates furnished on request.”
While Padgett’s newsletter prospectus above does not describe the Artschwager variant (probably assembled in 1973) it does point towards other fascinating details: who knew about the full specifications of Matta-Clark’s original complex, multi-formatted, shifting distribution and installation schemes (at the New York Cultural Center, but also intended to be installed by the artist in “homes and offices”)? The fact that prior to the publication of the Buffalo Press book, Walls paper was conceived according to a complex, perhaps changing distribution scheme, demonstrates that Matta-Clark conceived of Walls paper as an ongoing series of shifting displacements and altered material forms.
Jessamyn Fiore’s recent history of 112 Greene Street states that Matta-Clark installed “Walls paper and Bronx Floors” at 112 Greene Street from October - 21 November, 10, 1972. It wasn’t until the following year, however, that availability of the Buffalo Press version of Walls paper was announced in Avalanche as September, 1973. Price: $3.00. The photographic covers consist of images of exposed walls and walls paper in Bronx tenements. The staple-bound, photographic covers for the Artschwager variant deploy the cropped, bottom half portion of the photograph also used on the front image of the Buffalo Press edition of Walls paper. Because nothing stays the same for long in Matta-Clark’s re-purposing of New York real estate, however, and the photographic covers of the Artschwager variant, however, are printed… in reverse.  Based on the dates of the inscription “Best wishes 2u{4{1973-74} etc.,” it seems plausible to propose that the gift from Matta-Clark’s to Artschwager was co-terminous with the general release of the Buffalo Press version, and with the inscription relating, perhaps, to the duration of the academic year.
Alden Projects™ is pleased to introduce this previously unknown, unique variant of Matta-Clark’s Walls paper (1973) at the New York Art Book Fair in 2013.
© Todd Alden 2013

All photos © Todd Alden 2013