Reality Properties: Fake Estates

Queens Project

1975, 7 min, b&w, sound

Gordon Matta-Clark's Fake Estates project, which dates from 1973-74, addresses issues of property, ownership, and urban spaces. For this project, Matta-Clark purchased fifteen small, unusable odd lots — termed "gutterspaces" — that were being auctioned off by the city of New York. Although the artist collected extensive archival documents relating to the properties, his plans for using them were never realized; after his death the lots reverted to the city. This recently rediscovered footage, shot by video artist and cable television pioneer Jaime Davidovich, documents Matta-Clark as he visits one of the sites in Queens.

Writes the Queens Museum: "In the early 1970s, Matta-Clark discovered that the City of New York periodically auctioned off 'gutterspace' — unusably small slivers of land sliced from the city grid through anomalies in surveying, zoning, and public-works expansion. He purchased fifteen of these lots, fourteen in Queens and one in Staten Island. Over the next years, he collected the maps, deeds, and other bureaucratic documentation attached to the slivers; photographed, spoke, and wrote about them; and considered using them as sites for his unique brand of "anarchitectural" intervention into urban space. Matta-Clark died in 1978 at the age of 35 without realizing his plans for Fake Estates, and ownership of the properties reverted to the city. The archival material that he had assembled went into storage and was not rediscovered until the early 1990s, when it was assembled into exhibitable collages. Thus, the Fake Estates have emerged not only as a mordant commentary on issues surrounding property, materiality, and disappearance that marked the whole of Matta-Clark's career, but as artifacts of his own estate, reminders of the powers of absence and presence that govern our relationship to the past."