Tom Burr’s Renovations Map a City in Transition

A special commission for Frieze New York 2022 revives and extends the artist’s project for a changing present

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BY Tom Burr in Features , Frieze New York , Frieze Week Magazine | 10 MAY 22

In 1997, the artist Tom Burr published “Eight Renovations: A constellation of sites across Manhattan” in the periodical Opening. The essay mapped a series of places in transition—disappearing or emerging bars, parks, public restrooms, galleries and apartments—to trace space, memory, gentrification and migration in the city. Symbolic renovations were proposed at each site using swaths of greenboard, a construction material, to both mark and alter each location, and connect them all through chromatic signification.

In a new commission for Frieze New York, these “Eight Renovations” were printed as posters and wild-posted at a constellation of sites across Manhattan from April 20. A new text by Burr—The Ninth Renovation (2022)—is pictured below and will be installed at The Shed during the fair.

The Ninth Renovation - Tom Burr
Tom Burr, The Ninth Renovation, 2022. Frieze New York 2022. Courtesy: Casey Kelbaugh/Frieze; Photo: Casey Kelbaugh

The first renovation
In the middle of the island sits a large expanse of parkland carved out of the existing terrain by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Roughly in the middle of the elongated rectangle lies the Ramble, a luxuriant display of indigenous flora and transplanted exotica in various stages of growth and decay. The Ramble is home to an extensive array of birds, attracted by the area’s waterways, and by the relative seclusion and protection afforded by the dense understory of foliage. Attracted by the birds, groups of bird watchers flock to the Ramble year round, poised along the myriad trails and pathways, binoculars raised. The Ramble is also home to a large population of gay men who gather and cruise within the relative seclusion and protection afforded by the dense understory of foliage, and the intricate topography of this region of the park. The renovation will be free-floating, like a blank green billboard at one of the entrances to the Ramble, surrounded by spring green foliage, just beyond the Bow Bridge.

Tom Burr, Nine Renovations, 2022. Frieze New York 2022. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh. Courtesy of Casey Kelbaugh/Frieze.
Tom Burr, "Nine Renovations", 2022. Frieze New York 2022. Courtesy: Casey Kelbaugh/Frieze; Photo: Casey Kelbaugh

The second renovation
On the Lower East Side, at the intersection of Allen and Delancey Streets, sits a boarded-up public toilet. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the building exhibits a mild form of the Italianate motif which was the most popular model for public toilets at the time. It has been out of commission for much of the past two decades. The renovation will be a partial exterior wall covering, with the green sheet rock wrapping around the southeast corner to the front of the building.

The third renovation
The Wonder Bar is a small neighborhood gay bar on 6th Street just off Avenue A, in the East Village. It has recently changed owners, and changed decor. The film screen and the Monday night film screenings have been removed and a DJ booth with a large elliptical opening has been added. The original Wonder Bar opened around 1990 when the last of the East Village galleries (American Fine Arts, Co. and 303 Gallery) moved off of this block and into SoHo. The new incarnation of Wonder Bar is hipper and more popular than its predecessor, attracting a large mixed gay and lesbian crowd on most nights of the week. The renovation will take place on the inside of the bar, running along the west wall of the space, across from the long bar and up to the large elliptical opening of the DJ booth, creating a long green sheath of wallpaper.

Tom Burr, Nine Renovations, 2022. Frieze New York 2022. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh. Courtesy of Casey Kelbaugh/Frieze.
Tom Burr, "Nine Renovations", 2022. Frieze New York 2022. Courtesy: Casey Kelbaugh/Frieze; Photo: Casey Kelbaugh

The fourth renovation
Diagonally across the island, centered around 22nd Street on the West Side, a new gallery district has emerged. In contrast to the small, late 19th century storefronts of the former East Village galleries, and the 19th century warehouse lofts of the SoHo galleries, the spaces in this part of Chelsea are mostly early 20th century garages and industrial buildings. All have been renovated with large expanses of newly sheet-rocked wall and gray concrete flooring, and feel like a nest of scattered offspring at the feet of the parental Dia Art Foundation building at the westernmost point of 22nd Street. The renovation will take place within one of the first galleries to move to 22nd Street two years ago, and will occupy sections of the rear gallery and office space.

The fifth renovation
Further down the West Side to Tribeca, and onto a little-known street called Renwick, where a residential loft building has just undergone renovations. Sleek white spaces, with concrete gray flooring once again recall the Dia Art Foundation and the surrounding gallery milieu in Chelsea. The loft contains living space for a family of three, as well as a painting studio. The renovation will take place in the front entrance hall, adjacent to the first floor lavatory, just off the front entrance elevator.

The sixth renovation
Madison Park is a small 6.8-acre park located within Madison Square, between 23rd and 26th Streets, and Madison and Fifth Avenues. At the east side of the park, largely invisible to unknowing eyes, are the remnants of an underground public toilet. The subterranean toilet room has been sealed off, with only the upper steps and its surrounding railing remaining intact for view above ground. The renovation will partially enclose the existing boarded-up opening and the surrounding railings, like a small green shed nestled in the park.

Tom Burr, Nine Renovations, 2022. Frieze New York 2022. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh. Courtesy of Casey Kelbaugh/Frieze.
Tom Burr, "Nine Renovations", 2022. Frieze New York 2022. Courtesy: Casey Kelbaugh/Frieze; Photo: Casey Kelbaugh

The seventh renovation
On the northeast corner of 3rd Avenue and 14th Street, partially hidden by construction scaffolding, sits an adult all male video store. The outside is covered in matte black wood and shiny black glass and Plexiglas, with the word video repeated several times in neon letters near the entrance. The store sits tentatively on its corner, awaiting its displacement by the high-rise apartment building that is scheduled to be erected on the site within the next two years. Inside the store, the front room offers up a supply of videotapes, dildos and lubricants for sale, while the second space holds the individual video booths. The renovation will take place on the outside of the store, in some configuration of interaction with the existing black façade and the adjacent construction scaffolding.

The eighth renovation
At the northern tip of the island, next to the Henry Hudson Parkway, a small Grecian colonnade can be seen perched on a strip of woodland overlooking the Hudson River and New Jersey Palisades beyond. As part of Fort Tryon Park, it is probably a leftover from a 19th century estate, retained as an architectural folly by the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (son of the designer of Central Park) during his redesign of the region into a public park during the late 1920s, a project commissioned by business magnate John D. Rockefeller. The city accepted the park as a gift in 1931. The renovation will be free-floating, like a blank green billboard surrounded by spring green foliage, next to the Henry Hudson Parkway.

This article first appeared in Frieze Week, May 2022 under the headline “Frieze Commission: Tom Burr”.

For additional coverage of Frieze Week New York 2022, see here

The first renovation: Central Park (Ramble)
The second renovation: Lower East Side (Canal St/Eldridge area)
The third renovation: East Village (6th St and Ave A)
The fourth renovation: West Chelsea (10th Ave and 22nd St)
The fifth renovation: West Tribeca (Renwick St and Spring St)
The sixth renovation: Madison Park (23rd St and 5th Ave)
The seventh renovation: Union Sq/Gramercy Park (3rd Ave and 14th St)
The eighth renovation: Upper West Side

Main image: Tom Burr, The Ninth Renovation, 2022. Frieze New York 2022. Courtesy: Casey Kelbaugh/Frieze; Photo: Casey Kelbaugh

Tom Burr is an artist. He lives in New York, USA.

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