Meulensteen Gallery is proud to announce an exhibition of sculpture by Scott Burton organized by curator Nina Felshin, who worked with the artist from 1985 until his death in 1989 as a project coordinator and archivist. The exhibition will feature works of sculpture, fabricated in a range of materials, that also function as furniture. These will include examples of the granite chairs and tables for which Burton was well known at the end of his career, as well as rarely seen earlier works in wood and metal.
Scott Burton (1939-1989) is recognized as one of the crucial figures in Postwar American art, one who synthesized minimalism, performance art, and large-scale civic projects. His sculptural practice developed directly as a result of and in line with his early performance work, in which performers and objects were juxtaposed in striking and even sexualized tableaux.
The current exhibition seeks to locate the performative, and even playful, nature of Burton’s sculptural practice. Though Burton often made use of basic, reduced geometric shapes and ‘hard’ materials, the sculptures’ formal attributes and arrangement in space suggest an activated, conversational relationship between presence and absence. Works like Three-Quarter Cube Benches (a four-part granite work) and Two-Curve Chairs (a two-part steel grouping) were specifically arranged in ways that not only allowed their users to engage in dialogues, but created the sense that the objects themselves were in dialogue. The sculptures become metaphors-in-space for human behaviors and discourses.
Other sculptures draw metaphorical power from the forms of iconic furniture that they reference, and introduce their respective and specific functionalities into the larger vocabulary of Burton’s work. Lawn Chair, for instance, becomes a wry commentary on outdoor furniture and suburban lifestyles, especially when seen alongside the starkly geometric shapes of the granite works. Similarly, Marble Armchair can be read in reference to monumental sculpture, particularly to the kind of civic sculptures in which historical figures are depicted in seated positions. In these cases Burton’s work evokes not only an absent (or potential) human ‘user,’ but an entire network of institutional contexts, artistic and otherwise.
Burton was known for his emphasis on the direct experience of the spatial, visual, and tactile experience of particular materials, and thus the palette of his work as a whole is generally limited to the hues of the unadorned surfaces of stone, wood, and metal. However, several works proved to be surprising exceptions, including Five-Part Storage Cube, a brightly colored system of box-like forms structured in an almost vertiginous arrangement. Even in less obvious examples, an often overlooked sense of visual play can be traced throughout the sculptures, so that seeing these works together allows for seemingly austere works to be seen in a new light.
In 2004 Scott Burton’s work was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the IVAM Center Julio Gonzalez, Valencia, Spain, and was included in Art by Design/Design by Art: Decorative Art by Minimalist and Post-Minimalist Artists at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York. During his lifetime he was the subject of solo exhibitions at many institutions throughout the United States and Europe, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Kunstverein für die Rheinland und Westfalen, Düsseldorf (traveled to the Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, Germany and the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris); the Baltimore Museum of Art; The Tate Gallery, London; The Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, and the Fort Worth Art Museum, Fort Worth (traveled to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston). His work is in major museum collections, including those of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. He completed many large-scale public projects, including the general plans for the World Financial Center Plaza at Battery Park City and the urban plazas at the Equitable Center, PaineWebber Building, both in New York.
Nina Felshin is an independent curator, writer, and activist. Most recently she was curator of Wesleyan University’s Zilkha Gallery and an adjunct lecturer in Art History (1996-2010). Included among her Zilkha exhibitions are: Black and Blue: Examining Police Brutality; Disasters of War: From Goya to Golub; Framing and Being Framed: The Uses of Documentary Photography; Global Warning: Artists and Climate Change and; Daniel Heyman—Bearing Witness: Stories from the Front Lines. Formerly she was a curator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati. She has written numerous essays, articles and reviews about contemporary art that have appeared in anthologies, exhibitions catalogs, The Washington Post, The Art Journal, Art in America, and The Progressive.