Day’s End, 1975 (also called Day’s Passing) Pier 52, Gansevoort Street and West Street, New York
I remember when I saw the piece for the first time, it reminded me of the first moments of seeing a Michelangelo, of being in a cathedral with flying buttresses and the light through stained glass. Yet I was also afraid. I was afraid to cross the cut he had made in the floor; I’m afraid of heights. He made a small hand rope for me and other people who were fearful.
And then there were the buildings he cut apart. The pier piece was probably the most memorable. He took this horrible dingy place and brought light in – lines, forms that clearly separated the shoreline. It was a precious and dangerous monument.
Or the pier piece – such a simple way really to transform a very depressing place. It remained gritty and baroque and yet had that amazing shaft of light cutting through its centre. The cut of light was sculpture.
It was incredible to walk across the bridge over the cut he had made in the floor of the pier. The interior section was of such a big scale that it was not possible not to feel threatened by it.
The pier was a drastic situation; you had to go across a platform, a little bridge where he had cut out the floor. You were always concerned with your own well- being. How can I get out of here? Where can I go? Rather than looking at the whole piece, you had to take it step by step. You were inside of something – a place and an experience.
all above interviews with Joan Simon, printed in Mary Jane Jacobs, Gordon Matta- Clark: A Retrospective, exhib. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1985
A lack of commercial interest in piers and their associated warehouses afforded Matta-Clark the opportunity to gain access to such sites on several occasions in the past, but the piece at Pier 52 was his most adventurous with this type. It involved the cutting of a warehouse dating from the turn of the century, previously owned by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, but long since abandoned.
The spectacular setting and the boldness of the cuts supported Matta-Clark’s interest in reclaiming run-down areas for residents, converting it into public amenity space.
‘The water and sun move constantly in the pier throughout the day in what I see as an indoor park, a sun- and-water-temple.’
Interview with Matta-Clark in Matta- Clark, (exhib. cat.), International Cultureel Centrum, Antwerp, September 1977, p.11
Matta-Clark responded to the magical space of the building through a series of circular cuts that crossed, with only sections of each removed; this was also his most complex cutting to date. Removing sections of steel walls, between 250 and 450 mm thick, and sturdy wooden floor supports, he first cut a 3 m wide moat across the middle, bisecting the front and back halves.
A crescent, sail-like shape was cut out of the side wall at one end of the moat, providing access to the river. An ovoid cut in the roof above created a circle of light below, at noon cast in the path of the moat. A large quarter circle arc was cut from the floor in one corner of the building with a circle cut above in the corner.
The most spectacular and bold slice to be removed was the ovoid that appeared prominently like a cat’s eye or moon in the main riverside facade, emulating a rose window in a mediaeval cathedral. This admitted light in the afternoon, beginning with a sliver at noon, and filling the pier with light at the end of the day.
Matta-Clark was prosecuted for his use/misuse of the building, and faced a possible lawsuit for one million dollars in damages. The work at Pier 52 had been made without consent, and Matta-Clark had boarded and barb-wired all entrances except one, to which he had fixed his own lock. In his defence, Matta-Clark asserted that he had transformed this abandoned building into an indoor park of water and light. The claim for damages was finally dropped.