The city planning commission of Niagara Falls, New York, allotted Matta-Clark ten days to carve up a condemned house at 349 Erie Avenue before it was demolished. He divided the facade into a grid and then removed each rectangle individually. The result was eight separate building fragments (MoMA’s Bingo comprises three of them) and a Super 8 film documenting the deconstruction. In Matta-Clark’s process of subtraction and destruction, attributes that are conventionally associated with a house—domesticity, comfort, privacy—were displaced by a disorienting physical experience: the house became strange, a simple container for space now opened and incomplete.
Matta-Clark trained as an architect before developing the practice of “anarchitecture,” his term for the attacks he staged on the structural foundations of the built environment. As the tract houses of postwar suburban America began to decay in the 1970s, he sought to unearth the ideological assumptions attached to structures like the single-family home he demolished for Bingo. “Social mobility is the greatest spatial factor. . . . How one maneuvers in the system determines what kind of space [one] works and lives in,” Matta-Clark said, emphasizing the sociological critique that underpinned his work.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Matta-Clark cut these fragments from the facade of a house in Niagara Falls, New York, that was about to be demolished by the local housing commission. Working with a small team over the course of ten days, he cut the facade into nine equivalent rectangles then removed each one until only the central rectangle remained, like the central section of a Bingo card. Minutes after they finished the extraction, the house was razed. The artist retained three sections and deposited the remaining five in a nearby sculpture park, where he hoped they would be "gradually reclaimed by the Niagara River Gorge."
Matta-Clark was raised in New York City, and he had witnessed firsthand the constant demolition of older buildings for the construction of new ones, the result of shifting real estate values. "Work with abandoned structures," he wrote around 1974, "began with my concern for the life of the city, of which a major side effect is the metabolization of old buildings." The presence of empty and neglected buildings in urban centers is "a reminder of the ongoing fallacy of renewal through modernization."
Gallery label from Contemporary Art from the Collection, June 30, 2010 - September 12, 2011.
Unlike most architects, who would be inclined to renovate old buildings or replace them with new ones, Gordon Matta-Clark used his training in architecture to dismantle buildings—including a derelict house in Niagara Falls, New York—and transform them into works of art. Once thriving, this town had lost its luster by the 1970s. Matta-Clark saw in its abandoned homes an opportunity to practice what he called “anarchitecture”—a combination of anarchy and architecture—through which he drew attention to non-functional or overlooked buildings, architectural sites, and spaces. With a small team of workers, he cut the house’s northern façade into nine equally sized rectangles so that it resembled a bingo game card, after which this work is titled. He left the central rectangle on the house, deposited five in a nearby sculpture park where he hoped they would be reabsorbed into the earth, and kept three, which are now in MoMA’s collection. These are displayed aligned on the gallery floor so that viewers can walk around them and see segments of both the interior and exterior of the house. By inserting pieces of the outside world into an art museum, Matta-Clark hoped to draw attention to the troubled state of a real world place and its affected residents.