Photo Diary: ’112 Greene Street’ at David Zwirner Gallery, in NYC.

A piece of Gordon Matta-Clark’s graffiti truck, from 1973. Matta-Clark was inspired by graffiti in the early ’70s — before it had caught on with the mainstream art world. (Photo by C-M.)

The 1970s were not kind to New York. There was a middle class exodus to the suburbs. The Son of Sam was terrorizing the town. The city was bankrupt. Which, in a way, made the place an ideal spot for artists — who could take over empty SoHo warehouses for dance performances and attack derelict buildings in the Bronx with chainsaws, all without anybody batting an eyelash. The current David Zwirner exhibit 112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970-74) examines this history — specifically, the story behind the alternative arts spot that gave rise to a number of figures, among them sculptor and conceptualist Gordon Matta-Clark. (Most interestingly, he was able to make a real live cherry tree grow in 112′s by-all-accounts-nasty basement.)

For those who relish examining a period when the city was entirely bereft of velvet ropes and gaggles of Sex and the City wannabes, this is definitely the show for you. It is heavy on Matta-Clark, containing evidence of some of his early building slicing experiments, but also has some compelling sculptures by Richard Nonas and Alan Senet. In addition, to anyone interested in the history of graffiti, the show is an absolute must-see. Matta-Clark had a heavy duty interest in the art form — letting Bronx teens tag up his van and documenting early tags on the subways in pieces he called Graffiti Photoglyphs. (See the photos below.)

You’ve got until the end of the week to catch the show. 112 Greene Street runs through this Saturday, Feb. 12.

In the foreground, a piece of a building floor and ceiling sliced out of a New York City building by Matta-Clark (titled Coat Closet — from 1973). In the back, his Fresh Air Cart (which offered oxygen to passersby), along with Tina Giouard’s Air Space Stage (from 1972) — a performance space that can be easily collapsed and reconfigured.

Another view of Matta-Clark’s cutting — this time from the ceiling side.

Larry Miller’s Carrot Piece, from 1970 — a stack of fresh carrots that have been stitched together.

Blocks of Wood, 1970, by Richard Nonas. In the back corner: Alan Saret’s Four Piece Folding Glade, also from 1970 — which seems like the visual precursor to the works I’ve seen by Ruben Ochoa.

Worth checking out: Video of Richard Serra’s 1974 piece Prisoner’s Dilemma, in which various art world figures play the theoretical game at 112 Greene. Above, art dealer Leo Castelli — one of the “prisoners.” This proved way more entertaining to watch than I could have ever expected. Leading me to wonder if a top-shelf art dealer today (Larry Gagosian? Stuart Shave?) would allow the possibility of his own imprisonment in a basement in the name of a game.

Walls paper, 1972, by Matta-Clark. The images consist of ghost outlines left on buildings by demolishing the adjacent structure.

Views of Matta-Clark’s Graffiti Photoglyphs, in the front gallery.

Detail of a Graffiti Photoglyph by Matta-Clark. Digging the tag by Killer.

Another Graffiti Photoglyph detail — featuring an early masterpiece: The Pistol Experience. Nice.

Fact: 7up was a badass. Love this tag.

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