Scott Burton and Performance Art
Scott Burton and Performance Art
Scott Burton (1939–89) created performance art and sculpture that drew on queer experience and the sexual cultures that flourished in New York City in the 1970s. David J. Getsy argues that Burton looked to nonverbal body language and queer behavior in public space—most importantly, street cruising—as a foundation for rethinking the audiences and possibilities of art. Throughout the decade, he made complex works about bodies and how they communicate. Extending his performances about cruising, sexual signaling, and power dynamics, Burton also created functional sculptures that covertly signaled queerness by hiding in plain sight as furniture waiting to be used.
With research drawing from multiple archives and numerous interviews, Getsy charts Burton’s deep engagements with postminimalism, performance, feminism, behavioral psychology, design history, and queer culture. A restless and wide-ranging artist, Burton transformed his commitment to gay liberation into a unique practice of performance, sculpture, and public art that aspired to be anti-elitist, embracing of differences, and open to all. Filled with stories of Burton’s life in New York’s art communities, Queer Behavior makes a case for Burton as one of the most significant out queer artists to emerge in the wake of the Stonewall uprising and, in so doing, provides a rich account of the interwoven histories of queer art and performance art in the 1970s.
“Building on unprecedented research, Queer Behavior is the first substantial study of Scott Burton’s anti-hierarchical, eclectic, desire-oriented art of the 1970s. Getsy has written a masterful work—rigorous, encyclopedic, sympathetic, and inspired—toward a loving recuperation of an artist whose work has at times been eclipsed in histories of art and performance. Argument-driven and lushly narrated, Getsy’s writing hybridizes close analysis, critical biography, cultural history, and art historiography. The resulting book is unyieldingly good, at times breathtakingly so.”
Dominic Johnson, author of Unlimited Action: The Performance of Extremity in the 1970s
“Getsy’s long-awaited, meticulously researched volume reads like a novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it as scholarship, history, ‘deep gossip,’ and prose. He has marshaled craft and discipline to produce an accessible, nuanced, and compelling account of Burton’s unconventional and uniquely queer development. It’s a tremendously important, insightful, and lucid contribution to the field. This book is necessary reading for performance art scholars and anybody—everybody—who needs a road map to navigate the constant challenges that lonely creatives face against the pressures of prejudice and conformity.”
Gregg Bordowitz, author of General Idea: Imagevirus, Glenn Ligon: Untitled I Am a Man, and Some Styles of Masculinity
“Getsy offers a rigorously researched and beautifully rendered account of Burton’s performance practice, focusing on the lesser-known arc of Burton’s work from the 1970’s and, in the process, establishing its importance for both the art historical record and for histories of queer life. This is a substantial contribution to our knowledge of performance art, queer performance, and the performance scene of 1970’s New York.”
Joshua Chambers-Letson, author of After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life