Diana Ross Playground
45 Polaroid 600 photographs mounted to board
30.75 x 40.75 x 2 in (78.1 x 103.5 x 5.1cm)
Image courtesy of the artist and Bortolami, New York
Tom Burr (b. 1963, New Haven) moved to New York City in 1982 to attend the School of Visual Arts and the Whitney Independent Study Program. By the early 1990s, he was exhibiting at American Fine Arts along with Jack Pierson and Ull Hohn, who also became his partner. Diana Ross Playground (1993) is representative of Burr’s early work exploring the nature of public spaces, especially liminal sites such as parks, public bathrooms, and closets used as meeting points for anonymous gay sex. In this work, the Diana Ross Playground in Central Park, which one passes just before entering The Ramble, a popular gay cruising location in the 1980s, is presented through a series of Polaroids that could alternately be seen from the perspective of the documentarian eyes of a bird watcher or that of the young man searching for his lover.
In his text “Just Outside the Museum…” (1993), Burr writes:
Erosion of soil in The Ramble, a central problem confronting the Parks Department in its restoration attempts, has been caused in part by the activity of the gay men. Walking off designated paths, clearing areas within the undergrowth, producing desire lines (the landscape design term for such paths, “cutting corners” across lawns, creating shortcuts, etc.)….From a different perspective, the desire lines can be viewed as a form of counter-architecture…The desire lines and pathways which traverse The Ramble, intersecting with and deflating from the routes layed [sic] out in the original blueprints, are most specifically a form of re –architecture. The original “master plan” has been altered, adjusted and restructured to accommodate those who use it.
Burr’s other early work similarly investigates the use of public spaces. For example, An American Garden (1993) recreated a to-scale version of the Ramble of Central Park and installed it within Sonsbeek Park in the Netherlands. Burr interspersed texts within the park pathways ruminating on the intermingling of bird watchers and gay men “and their relationships to the surrounding landscape, its maintenance, its erosion and its neglect, and to the notion of a larger, more ‘general public…[thereby] reflecting conditions of landscape design, Naturalism, and public perceptions of sexuality.” Tom Burr, An American Garden (1993) In another work, Unearthing the Public Restrooms (1994), Burr incorporated photographs of Manhattan restrooms known for cottaging which were closed by public authorities in response to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
Florence Derieux, Ed., Extrospective, Works 1994-2006 (Zurich: JRP Ringier, 2006)