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Re: Scott Burton's Atrium Furnishment / Organized by Darling Green with Soft Network

Apr 25, 2023

Scott Burton
Gordon Hall
Rosemary Mayer
Paul P
Nat Pyper
Scott Treleaven
Julia Weist

Opening Event: Monday, May 1st 6-8PM

Dates: May 1 - May 20, 2023
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 5pm and by appointment
636 Broadway, Room 320
New York, NY 10012

Public Programs:

May 8th 5PM

Conversation With a Ghost
Jeremy Johnston from Darling Green and Chelsea Spengemann and Marie Warsh from Soft Network discuss different approaches to posthumous stagings of artworks in relation to their respective roles preserving Scott Burton’s Atrium Furnishment (1986), Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome (1965) and Rosemary Mayer’s Ghosts (1981-1981). The program will begin with the construction of Ghost by the Estate of Rosemary Mayer. Ghost will be on view through May 15th.

May 15th 6PM

Telephone Telephone #12
Conversation on Scott Burton’s furniture forms and public artworks along with his relationship to decorative arts history.

RSVP required for all programs. Please email

Organized by Darling Green in collaboration with Soft Network, Re: Scott Burton's Atrium Furnishment brings together a group of artists in dialogue with artworks and archival material from the estates of Scott Burton (1939–1989) and Rosemary Mayer (1943–2014).

Burton’s Atrium Furnishment (1986), an installation for the atrium of The Equitable Life Assurance Company in New York City forms the core of the project. A remarkable example of what Burton would term “environmental sculpture,” Atrium Furnishment was the realization of his idea of an artwork as an arena for everyday performance. The monumental, seating-arrangement sculpture combining marble, brass, onyx and live plants was deeply informed by decorative arts traditions, as well as Burton’s own involvement in the LGBTQ community of 1980s New York amidst the AIDS epidemic.

Original pieces from Burton’s Atrium Furnishment (1986) and a restaging of Mayer’s Ghosts (1980-1981) center concern for the posthumous life of artworks and ideas of monumentality vs. ephemerality within the exhibition. Artists Gordon Hall, Paul P, Nat Pyper, Scott Treleaven and Julia Weist all engage either with Burton’s public sculptural practice itself, or notions of permanence and identity, which were key aspects of both Burton and Mayer’s works. Gordon Hall’s animation March, 4pm (2022) traces the afternoon light through his studio window, while the parenthetical title of Shim (The Number Of Inches Between Them) (2020) is a direct quote from Burton on his Behavior Tableaux (1970-80) performances. Both Paul P. and Nat Pyper draw on queer histories to create charged objects, such as Paul P.’s Prisms (tabouret and paravent) (2016), a memorial furniture piece dedicated to interwar dandy aesthetes, and Pyper’s Cutups (2021) which mine underground queer publishing histories to develop wearable text sculptures, activated by performance. Scott Treleaven and Julia Weist’s work navigates the public-facing side of artists and their work; Scott Burton’s Garden Court (2021), Treleaven’s photographs of Burton’s last public commission, located in Toronto, capture its oasis-like quality in the midst of the urban environment, and Julia Weist’s All My Clothes That Make Me Look Most Convincingly Like An Artist According to Robert K. Wittman, Former FBI Agent Undercover in the Art World (2021) addresses artist’s identity vis-a-vis public and institutional scrutiny.

Two public programs taking place within the exhibition will provide an opportunity to discuss the works on view as well as urgent issues around the preservation of Atrium Furnishment, which was deinstalled and placed into storage during the pandemic. Atrium Furnishment was commissioned in 1985, by the Equitable Life Assurance Company for the lobby of its newly built corporate headquarters at 787 Seventh Avenue in New York City along with two other outdoor seating arrangements flanking the North and South sides of the adjoining 1285 Sixth Avenue building. Unfortunately, Atrium Furnishment was removed in a 2020 lobby renovation. Darling Green has since been trying to place the work as a donation with the help of a group of knowledgeable advisors. A tragic disappearance multiplied by the understated mournfulness of the work, framed by Burton’s own death from AIDS complications in 1989, the sculpture can be read as a vital monument to victims of the virus, but also a site of memory and inspiration for later generations of artists who look to Burton as a key thinker about performance, sculpture, and queer identity. Original fragments from Atrium Furnishment selected by Darling Green for display within this project include segments of the brass floor inlay, the four onyx light sculptures, as well as a selection of live plants designated by Burton for use in the installation. Original blueprints and correspondence from the development and maintenance of the work will also be on view.

While Burton was making his monumental public sculptures in the early 1980s, Rosemary Mayer was creating ephemeral installations in gallery spaces called Ghosts using wooden rods, paper, and ribbons, which she would dismantle at the end of each exhibition. Burton and Mayer moved in the same circles, beginning in the late 1960s in the community created through the publication of 0 To 9, edited by Bernadette Mayer, Rosemary’s sister, and Vito Acconci, who was married to Rosemary and became Burton’s close friend. The Mayer sisters and Burton participated in Street Works, the influential series of performances staged over three days in 1969 that represented the culmination of 0 To 9, and allowed Burton to first experiment with performance. Furthermore, Burton was fluent in the dialogue taking place around feminist art, as seen in his critical writing and contributions as editor at Art in America and ARTnews throughout the 1970s. Both artists were pushing the boundaries of materiality in relation to ephemeral, time-based performance works.

Rosemary Mayer’s Ghosts were part of a larger series of installations entitled Temporary Monuments, meant to celebrate or memorialize members of her community, and Burton explored these questions in his public sculptures as well as in series such as Behavior Tableaux, in which small audiences witnessed a variety of precisely choreographed stagings. The contrast between the brass, marble and onyx pieces representing Atrium Furnishment in this project and Mayer’s temporary sculpture combining paper, thread, and wood, present two extremes of how Post-Minimalist artists responded to the authoritative limits of an autonomous art object created by an imagined objective body in supposed neutral space.

Burton’s and Mayer’s practices raise difficult questions: Who should make posthumous decisions regarding an artist’s body of work? How much can these artworks change over time while still keeping to the artist’s original intent? When and how should an artwork end? This project presents an evolving forum for the public to engage with works that are — intentionally or otherwise — complicated to preserve. While Burton and Mayer’s works necessarily exist in different forms than the artists originally imagined, their legacies resonate through contemporary restagings as well as through new artworks made in their spirit.