Scott Burton – Exploring The Space Between Art And Design

Scott Burton (1939 – 1989) was an American sculptor best known for his large-scale furniture sculptures. His minimalist objects blur the lines between furniture design and sculpture, creating a unique aesthetic.

Burton discovered his love for art at a young age. However, he doubted that he could make it as an artist.1 Therefore, after graduation, he began a career as an art critic and worked as an editor for ARTnews. It wasn’t until a few years later, in the early 1970s, that he began making art himself – performance art. In his performances, he explored non-verbal communication, interpersonal dynamics, and body language.

At this time, he also created his first piece of furniture – the Bronze Chair. Since then he has continued to build furniture. He called these functional pieces of furniture “Pragmatic Sculptures”. His idea was to create objects that were so anonymous and unobtrusive that they could be integrated into the concept of daily life.

Scott Burton, Steel Furniture chair, USA, 1978-1979
lacquered hot-rolled steel, 83 × 48 × 46 cm
Steel Furniture chair, USA, 1978-1979 lacquered hot-rolled steel, 83 × 48 × 46 cm © Wright Auction under Fair Use
Prototype Steel Furniture table, USA, 1978-1980
rusted and lacquered hot-rolled steel, 74 × 141 × 90 cm
Prototype Steel Furniture table, USA, 1978-1980 rusted and lacquered hot-rolled steel, 74 × 141 × 90 cm © Wright Auction under Fair Use
Scott Burton, Arch-Plate Table, designed 1988, executed ca. 2005, Patinated steel, 71.8 x 139.1 x 56.5 cm
Arch-Plate Table, designed 1988, executed ca. 2005, Patinated steel, 71.8 x 139.1 x 56.5 cm © Phillips Auction under Fair Use

At the age of only fifty, in 1989, Scott Burton died. His work is characterized by a desire to combine function and aesthetics, drawing inspiration from Russian Constructivism, De Stijl, and the Bauhaus. He always believed that art should “place itself not in front of, but around, behind, and under (literally) the audience.” He used a minimalist language in his work but challenged the idea of purity represented by other minimalist artists in America in the 1960s and 1970s.2

Burton understood that the most interesting pieces could be created on the border between art and design – so he created objects that had the intricacies of sculptural forms, but also the practicality to attract an audience beyond the established art world.

Pair of tables, designed 1980, fabricated 1981, Cast concrete, Each: 61 x 36.5 x 36.5 cm
Pair of tables, designed 1980, fabricated 1981, Cast concrete, Each: 61 x 36.5 x 36.5 cm © Phillips Auction under Fair Use
Café Table, designed 1984, produced 1985, Verde Ubatuba granite, 71.1 x 55.9 x 55.9 cm
Café Table, designed 1984, produced 1985, Verde Ubatuba granite, 71.1 x 55.9 x 55.9 cm © Phillips Auction under Fair Use
Two Curves Chairs by Scott Burton, 1989 | Minimalist art & Design via Aesence
Pair of Two Curve Chairs, 1989, Steel, Size: 90,2 x 53,3 x 67,3 cm © Phillips Auction under Fair Use

Further Reading / Resources

1 https://www.wright20.com/artists/scott-burton

2 Double Vision: Scott Burton by Elizabeth Essner via Philips Auction

https://www.wright20.com/auctions/2015/11/design-masterworks/14

Aesence is an independent art and design publication dedicated to minimalist aesthetics. Founded out of a deep appreciation and fascination, Aesence aims to promote awareness and appreciation of minimalism in art and design.