CASVA's David Getsy

David J. Getsy
David J. Getsy, one of the members of the National Gallery's Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA), sitting on a favored sculpture by Scott Burton. (Bill O'leary - Washington Post)
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

David Getsy is a 37-year-old professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During his fellowhip at CASVA, he is studying Scott Burton, an American artist who died of AIDS complications in 1989. Burton made his name with pared-down modern sculptures that double as furniture. The National Gallery has two of Burton's "settees" -- oblong granite boulders with a seat and back sliced out of them -- in the atrium of its East Building, and Getsy is sitting on one as he gives his take on its maker.

"Why would an artist create work that you'd use, or walk past -- or maybe not even notice?" Getsy asks.

The answer is that Burton hoped to undermine the power traditionally vested in the artist. By adding functionality, Burton insisted that his art isn't complete until it is used by someone, Getsy says, turning anyone who sits on one of his benches into a collaborator.

Burton, as a gay artist and a fan of feminism, wanted to "deny his own presence, and step back from his own authority."

This is the opposite of one of the most famous moves in modern art, whereby someone like Marcel Duchamp could take the everyday and turn it into sculpture, just by saying that's what it is. Burton's chairs, Getsy says, are quite happy to avoid declaring themselves as art at all. "They're meant to be a bit humble, and they're submitted to the viewer, and [Burton] allows himself to be overlooked as an artist."

As if on cue, four young teens sit down on a nearby Burton. "Look," one says, with obvious relish, "it's art we can touch!"

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