Scott Burton

December 11, 2008

As with many of my favorite artists, there’s precious little about Burton on the internet.   I did manage to find an image of his more well-known public art, in the Walker collection:


This is Chairs (Obtuse Angle, a Pair) from what I’m going to guess is the early to mid ’80s.  The thing to look at here is the substance of the chairs–granite–as well as how they’re placed in relation to each other.  They’re almost comfortable, and almost aligned, but not quite.

What makes this interesting for me is how to read it in light of his earlier performance work of tableaux vivants.  Called “behavioral tableaux” and done with small groups of nude or simply-clothed men (between 2 and 6 per show, if memory serves) the performances offered little in the way of narrative other than the implied relationship between the men based on how they were instructed to pose toward/away from each other. 

From what I’ve read, they were balanced precariously between dance and sculpture and though there are precedents (like Bruce MacClean’s Nice Style Pose Band) it was the stark (minimalist) tension of the Burton pieces, some of which were videotaped, that was key.  Also precariously balanced along with everything else is what I’m going to go ahead and call homonormative representation.  The men (and above, the chairs) are mirrors of each other, queered; they elegantly get at the root of same/other questions in queer behavior and desire, and like a hanky code, they could be read as minimalist public art or they could be read queer, if you wanted to.

This is one part of what I’m getting at with my interest in this whole queer abstraction idea.  A way to conditionalize queerness while getting away from conventional queer iconography.  Who knows, though.


2 Responses to “Scott Burton”

  1. AdamFeldmeth Says:

    Scott Burton’s piece from Sculpture Project website archive (’87):

  2. mbuitron Says:

    There seems to be a viewer-subject relationship between the two chairs. Male-male conversations (at least in America) more often involve men sitting at right angles or facing the same direction, rather then face-to-face positioning preferred by women. The sculpture seems to split the difference.

    I’m also reading the two pieces of granite of each chair anthropomorphically, and seeing oral sex. But as my mother would say, I see sex in the crotch of a tree.

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