New York / Past Exhibition

Scott Burton Tableaux

Wright is pleased to announce, Scott Burton: Tableaux, an exhibition devoted to the work of the seminal American sculptor, installation and performance artist. All works will be on view at Wright’s New York gallery and available for sale from 3 – 21 March 2015.

Scott Burton, More than Art

“The name of the artist is Scott Burton… At this point, he seems still to be held back by appeals to the sensibility of a highly initiated audience but seems also to predict a new large-scale, three-dimensional figurative art treating accessibly the life experience of the viewer and by extension, the preoccupations of larger culture” — Scott Burton, Lecture on Self, 1973

In the beginning was the Word, and Scott Burton began his career as a writer. Publishing critical essays and reviews mostly for Art in America and Artnews, his first major contribution, in 1966, was an impassioned critical essay commending the work of Tony Smith, deftly arguing for Smith's position in the canon of modern American sculpture. He viewed Smith as a sculptor of necessity, whose charge was more than working the inside game of self-critical minimalism of the time. Writing in Artnews of Smith's six-foot steel cube Die (1962, Collection Whitney Museum), Burton notes, "Die is not the elimination or antithesis of expression, but the culmination of expression-like a scream so high it can no longer be heard." The next year he gave a more expansive lecture on the topic in which refers to the didactic imperative of much 'reductive' art (including Smith's). He goes on, "This is not the most important thing about looking at a Tony Smith. His art is expressive of feelings, ideas, attitudes that are about more than sculpture, more than art." Nearly a half century removed and these impassioned comments seem more precisely the mission statement of the artist Burton was to become.

Before devoting himself to sculpture in the mid-1970s, Burton staged a series of notable Tableaux performances, often presented at museums such as the Whitney or Guggenheim. Among his contemporaries, Burton characterized his work as approaching, "conceptions of art broader than those of either the self-defining formalist object or the self-referring performance". These performances sought a more figural and representational style, wherein he posed performers as furniture and sculpture, roles Burton would later reverse. His sculpture is a direct acknowledgement of the relational, give-and-take performer-audience relationship he exploited as a performer. This is clearly ingrained in his many ambitious public art commissions executed throughout the 1980s, but also in the monumental works he created as a studio artist, such as those presented here.

Scott Burton died in 1989 leaving a complex and rich artistic legacy, one that continues to instruct on the role of art and the artist. But it is the work he made which defines his legacy. Perhaps emboldened and inspired by the achievements he attributed to Smith’s work, Burton too wanted more: more physicality, more function, more awareness, more sensitivity, more material, more exposure, more spirit, more sexuality, more weight, more meaning. Scott Burton the critic was really an artist testing out the strength of his conviction. Ultimately, he made objects which supplant the prevalent formal debate in which he was an active participant. Burton was a gifted writer, the object was a more powerful tool. To make art was to really say something.

— Brent Lewis, 2015

exhibition preview