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BookAward 2023

The winner of the 2023 Robert Motherwell Book Award is Queer Behavior: Scott Burton and Performance Art (The University of Chicago Press) by David J. Getsy. The award carries a $10,000 prize for the author.

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 body language and queer behavior in public spaces—most importantly, street cruising—as foundations for rethinking the audiences and possibilities of art. This first book on Burton examines his underacknowledged contributions to performance art and how he made queer life central in them. Getsy shows how Burton, by extending his performances about cruising, sexual signaling, and power dynamics throughout the decade, also came to create functional sculptures that covertly signaled queerness by hiding in plain sight as furniture waiting to be used.

The award jury noted that Queer Behavior greatly expands our understanding of the life and lesser-known performance work of Burton. Through rigorous research and deft analysis the book offers profound insights that will inspire reassessment by those familiar with Burton’s work and ideas, while attracting a new audience to this significant artist, whose contributions are increasingly relevant.

David J. Getsy is the Eleanor Shea Professor of Art History at the University of Virginia. He has published eight books, including Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender (Yale University Press, 2015/2023) and Rodin: Sex and the Making of Modern Sculpture (Yale University Press, 2010). His awards include the 2019 Dedalus Foundation Senior Fellowship, an Ailsa Mellon Bruce Senior Fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, a Terra Foundation Visiting Professorship at the Freie Universität Berlin, and a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship from Queen Mary University of London. He is currently writing a book based on his exhibition Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble in 1970s New York.