Split Open

November 16, 2015

Matta Clark's 'Splitting' (1974)

Matta Clark's 'Splitting' (1974)

Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Splitting” was the first image I saw as a student in Outreach. The black-and-white photograph of the suburban model home cut directly in half was so jarring to my 14-year-old mind that it remains the only memory I have of that first class. It was not that the other images being shown that day were any less interesting or challenging,. Rather it was the fact that seeing Matta–Clark’s work for the first time, was also the first time that I had been so squarely confronted with an artwork that, to me, didn’t look like “art.”

But in that first Outreach class any sense of confinement and preconceived expectation immediately dissipated. It was in this image of a divided house that I first saw the incredible landscape of choices and possibilities that one has as an artist today. The most blatant of these possibilities was the option to work outside of a room, a revelation that I clung to throughout my time at Outreach and during my time as a student at The Cooper Union. Through the introduction of that image I felt as though I was given permission to make art in any manner that made sense to me as an individual rather than as an “artist.” It introduced me to a new way of being in the world that was not about creating contextual blinders but using what was in my immediate reality as a means to make work. What “Splitting” taught me along with many of the other works that I saw while I was a student at Outreach is how work can be funny, absurd, straightforward and exist in a world that is recognizable to someone’s own lived experience while also being vigorous and critical.

David Johnson

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.