The two buildings that comprise the Equitable Center (now AXA) were planned in the 1980s to contain significant works of public art. Three of these are by Scott Burton.
Burton was an art critic and performance artist in the 1960s and ’70s, and took full advantage of the city’s gay underground nightlife. In the mid-1970s, Burton turned to furniture design and this soon developed into what he called “pragmatic sculptures,” public art installations that bridged the divide between high art and furniture.
The Equitable Center has three works from Burton. In the building’s Seventh Avenue lobby Burton installed Atrium Furnishment (1984-85), a 40-foot semi-circular bench of marble with onyx lights set around a circular table with a fountain (now a planter). The arc of the bench is echoed by a small grove of conifer trees. Near Sixth Avenue, alongside what was then the Paine Webber Building, Burton designed two installations (1985-86). Urban Plaza South, on 51st Street, includes a pair of triangular granite planters with wood benches and small granite mushroom-like tables, each with three stools of similar design. Similar planters appear at Urban Plaza North on 52nd Street, where they are joined by austere granite chairs and couches. In 1989, Burton died of AIDS at the age of 50.
“[Scott Burton’s] work balanced stubbornly and elegantly between art and furniture while evolving into a new kind of public sculpture.”
Burton has two other installations in New York City. In Lower Manhattan he designed the long granite bench on the plaza in front of the World Financial Center (now Brookfield Place). Burton’s installation of benches, ottomans, lamps, and wind vanes of steel and wood enlivens the fishing piers in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.