In his second solo show at Bortolami, Tom Burr uses materials and forms loosely associated with childhood experience to transform the gallery into a kind of adult playpen. The spooky title apparently refers to a site where “instances of trauma and ecstasy were played out,” though the presumably lurid details of these formative episodes are left to the viewer’s imagination.
What Burr presents us with is a set of plywood panels onto which blankets and T-shirts are affixed with studlike upholstery tacks (he dubs the series “Clouds”); three large sculptures that combine found and original elements into box- or enclosure-like forms; and a corner-mounted collage diptych featuring a vintage Playboy interview with Tennessee Williams. Much of this looks starkly formal at first, but titles like Undiagnosed Blue Mood hint at messier psychological undercurrents.
Burr is a veteran of American Fine Arts, the defunct Soho gallery that launched ’90s icon Cady Noland, and his work retains the aesthetic and conceptual toughness with which dealership and artist were associated. The “Clouds” panels, with their monochrome coloration, awkwardly crumpled surfaces, and deliberate confusion of painterly and sculptural attributes, echo Piero Manzoni’s early ’60s “Achromes,” while the black metal cage with hanging lamp and upturned chair that dominates the space looks strikingly Nolandesque. In the back room, six old theater seats sit inside a facing pair of wooden containers lined with mirrors, suggesting that we would do well to take a closer look not only at these objects and their contexts, but also at ourselves.—Michael Wilson