Too Dangerous

1970s Artists Controversies Exhibitions Ontario Street

Convincing trustees and the fire department to approve Gordon Matta-Clark’s project Circus: The Caribbean Orange proved difficult.

So we talked about how one could negotiate with the museum to commission him, if you will, to create a work. And again, as I said, working with Alene Valkanas, with Lew Manilow, who had to get permission from the fire department. We had to convince the trustees that what we would do, cutting open the annex to the museum on Ontario Street, would not be dangerous for those visitors. Gordon came in the winter, and he had this great notion of incorporating community, people who were out of work. And we went to one of those agencies where you could hire people for the day. We loaded up the bus, we came back to Ontario Street. There was Gordon with the saws that he was using to take down this entire stone and brick town house, and those guys took one look at this job and said, “No, we’re not going to work on this. It’s too dangerous.”

Gordon drew beautiful ellipses with pencils onto this space and did it largely himself, and the piece as you know was called Circus—because it became such an arena for everyone’s activities—or The Caribbean Orange, because he cut through the four floors of the building the way they cut through oranges in the Caribbean. So it had that kind of double connotation. He was a spectacular figure. He was the son of Sebastián Matta, so he had a welcoming community, if you will, because some of the Chicago great collectors knew his father, and had already included the father’s work. So to bring Gordon back was extraordinary.

Installation view, Circus: The Caribbean Orange, MCA Chicago, Jan 28–Feb 13, 1978. Photo © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Circus: The Caribbean Orange, MCA Chicago, Jan 28–Feb 13, 1978. Photo © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Circus: The Caribbean Orange, MCA Chicago, Jan 28–Feb 13, 1978. Photo © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Circus: The Caribbean Orange, MCA Chicago, Jan 28–Feb 13, 1978. Photo © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Circus: The Caribbean Orange, MCA Chicago, Jan 28–Feb 13, 1978. Photo © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Circus: The Caribbean Orange, MCA Chicago, Jan 28–Feb 13, 1978. Photo © MCA Chicago.

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