Tom Burr is working out his hometown’s social and political controversies, as well as his own personal struggle, inside the Marcel Breuer-designed, IKEA-owned, abandoned building sitting by the highway in New Haven, Connecticut. The exhibition Burr has assembled in the former Armstrong tire warehouse and executive offices is the first of Bortolami Gallery’s Artist/City projects in which the gallery rents spaces in various locations around the country for artists to transform.
Burr’s choice fell on his native New Haven, a locale deeply engrained in his personal history. The Breuer building, it turned out, was waiting for someone to make use of it. Regular commuters on Interstate 95 who drive by New Haven are accustomed to the sight of the imposing concrete structure hovering over the surrounding landscape like a giant Brutalist spaceship. In 1968, when the Armstrong Rubber Factory commissioned the modernist starchitect Marcel Breuer—a once-faculty member at Bauhaus and New Haven’s own Yale—to design the building, it was positioned in a highly visible spot to be a gatepost to the city at the time of its mid-century urban renewal.
In 1988, Armstrong and its building were purchased by the Italian Pirelli Tire Company. In 2002, the edifice and the surrounding area were acquired by IKEA, which built a regional store on the site. You’d think IKEA would have an idea for repurposing the landmark structure. Alas, after chopping off large part of the building’s foundation—to make room for more parking spots—IKEA left the rest intact but found no use for it.
The Breuer building was an obvious choice for Burr. It had been used and abandoned. It had passed hands. It had suffered violations and become a site of intrusions by the city’s homeless and downtrodden. Burr saw the building as a body, with signs of aging, scars, and bandages he wanted to expose in the project entitled Body/Building: Pre-Existing Conditions.
The most painful scar is on the long wall opposite the entrance. The wall itself was transported from the far-end of the torn down warehouse to cover the opening left after the demolition. Dramatically highlighting the scar, Burr installed a narrow white banner along the length of the building (“Wide Wall Wound”), pointing to the cement seams below.Continue Reading