Critics’ Picks

Tom Burr, Circa ’77, 1995, wood, soil, trees, found objects, 7' x 13' 1“ x 13' 1”.

New York

Tom Burr

Bortolami Gallery
520 West 20th Street
October 29–December 23, 2015

Tom Burr’s new sculptures inject autobiography and eroticism into their rigid, industrial supports. Every work is composed of one or two metallic planes. They are lined up serially along the walls of the gallery, each a slight variation on the one previous. These gray forms are called “grips,” 2015, evoking bodily touch. Some are made reflective by the addition of glass sheets or polished slabs visibly bolted to the steel ground. Hovering a foot above the floor on a specially built shelf, this subtle architectural intervention alters the viewing experience just enough to call attention to the context of the gallery. Questioning the use of space and its division into public and private has long propelled Burr’s practice. One sees this most strikingly in a superb selection of earlier works from 1994–99. The grandest, Circa ’77, 1995, is a giant patch of rough landscape. Trees and shrubs are planted in a large wooden box with some errant bits of litter—signs of human presence. This work contests the governmental purification of the Platzspitz, a former needle park and cruising ground in Zurich that had been made sterile by the 1990s.

In the “grips,” snapshots that look as if they came from an iPhone camera are sometimes printed onto steel, making the cool Minimalist vocabulary at play seem intimate. When Burr repeatedly deploys a photo of a glove left on a sidewalk, as in grip five, one feels more Minor White than Minimalism. Burr is a master of sensualizing geometric shapes: grip two’s twin circles are at once glory holes, manholes, record sleeves, and eyes.

In grip one and grip six, we see the artist’s own feet, snapped from a standing position and then printed onto the vertical plane of the support. These dimensional shifts open up the bodily experience of the work, producing a rigorous sense of what it’s like to stand inside someone else’s skin.