Scott Burton (1939-1989)

Image of Scott Burton's Bench and Table sculpture in the Smart Museum garden

Designed 1988
Installed 1991

Carved and polished granite
Bench: 19 x 52 x 26 in. (48.3 x 132.1 x 66 cm)
Table: 27 x 15 in. ( 71.1 x 38.1 cm)

Located in the Vera and A. D. Elden Sculpture Garden at The Smart Museum
5550 S. Greenwood Avenue

Purchase, Gift of The Smart Family Foundation in honor of Vera and A.D. Elden

Artist Profile



“[Scott Burton] definitely was half in love with gravity. He liked to lie down. He liked to sit. Not for no reason was he the best sculptor the world has known of places to sit down.”
Peter Schjeldahl, “Scott Burton: The Concrete Work”

Scott Burton integrates physical experience into his sculptures. His philosophy that a sculpture’s value lies in the user’s experience of the artwork is above all evident in his “pragmatic structures”—often colloquially called “furniture sculptures”—which he produced from 1970 until his death in 1989. Burton’s goal was to create public art with a democratizing thrust. He wanted his art to be inclusive, as accessible as possible to audiences from many different backgrounds rather than simply to the wealthy patrons of art galleries. His furniture pieces attest to this desire; in his words,

“The true potential importance of a new movement of artists’ decoration would be on a broader economic scale, on a public scale.”

Designed in 1988 and completed posthumously in 1991, Bench and Table is one realization of Burton’s conception of a truly public and social art. Its geometric yet familiar form allows visitors to choose how they approach the work. By playfully suggesting functionality and evoking objects of everyday use, Burton ensured that his art would be universally accessible, and the work’s location in the Smart Museum courtyard effectively elicits the reactions he desired.

The work is next to the museum café’s outdoor seating area, emphasizing its functional value as another seating option during someone’s lunch break, yet its proximity to the “normal” tables and chairs also draws attention to its status as art, interfering with its life as a functional object. Its hard granite material also defies its name, signifying an intimate eating experience while rejecting the expected comfort of that idea. Burton ultimately intended his furniture sculptures to be interpreted simultaneously as common, relatable objects, and as works of art, continuously complicating a viewer’s interaction with the sculpture.


Written by Giuliana Vaccarino Gearty, a student in Art History


Related Links

“Mostly They're Having Lunch” (Bench and Table in the Smart Museum's blog)

“Sculptura in Horto” (the Vera and A. D. Elden Sculpture Garden in the Smart Museum's blog)


Burton, Scott. Artist Statement. Design Quarterly 122 (1983): 10-11.

David Getsy (Goldabelle McComb Finn Distinguished Professor of Art History and Interim Dean of Graduate Studies, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Interview, May 20, 2015.

Scott Burton. Edited by Brenda Richardson. Baltimore: The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1987. Exhibition catalog.

Scott Burton: Collected Writings on Art & Performance, 1965-1975. Edited by David J. Getsy. Chicago: Soberscove Press, 2012.

Scott Burton: the Concrete Work. Edited by Peter Schjeldahl. New York: Max Protetch Gallery, 1992. Exhibition catalog.

Further Reading

Rondeau, James E. “Bronze Chair, Designed 1972, Cast 1975 by Scott Burton.” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 25.1 (1999): 46-47.

Smart Collecting: Acquisitions 1990-2004, Celebrating the Thirtieth Anniversary. Edited by Kimberly Rorschach. Chicago: The Smart Museum of Art, 2004.

Archival Materials

Design sketches of Burton's sculpture, 1988

Source: The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art

“Scott Burton's Sculpture Bench and Table To Be Installed At The Smart Museum Of Art On 7 June 1991” (press release from the Smart Museum, May 1991)

Source: The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art

Photograph of the sculpture's installation in 1991

Source: The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art