John Chamberlain

Photo by Angelo Piccozzi. Artwork © John Chamberlain. All rights reserved.

John Chamberlain Listed Exhibitions (Selected) (44 Kb)
John Chamberlain Bibliography (Selected) (25 Kb)

John Chamberlain is best known for his distinctive metal sculptures, constructed from discarded automobile-body parts and other modern industrial detritus, which he began making in the late 1950s. His singular method of putting these elements together led to his inclusion in the paradigmatic exhibition “The Art of Assemblage,” at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961, where his work was shown alongside modern masters such as Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. While freely experimenting with other materials—from galvanized steel and paper bags to Plexiglas, foam rubber, and aluminum foil—he consistently returned to metal car components, which he termed “art supplies.”

Chamberlain’s works boldly contrast the everyday, industrial origin of materials with a cumulative formal beauty, often underscored by the given paint finish of the constituents. The process of construction has its roots in industrial fabrication, given that mechanical car crushers often imparted preliminary form to his raw materials. Visibly emphasizing the original seams as well as the physical trace of his actions, Chamberlain emphatically constructed assemblages that unite seemingly disparate mechanical elements. Crumpling, crushing, bending, twisting, painting, and welding the metals to form individual objects, which may be further sprayed, he combined them into aggregations, often on a monumental scale that is both imposing and thrilling.

Chamberlain’s emphasis on discovered or spontaneous correlations between materials rather than a prescribed idea of composition has often prompted descriptions of his works as three-dimensional Abstract Expressionist paintings. He openly credited de Kooning, Kline, and David Smith as early influences on his own development. Chamberlain’s sculptures are widely recognized as representing a major transition in the history of modern—particularly public—sculpture, when industrial materials became an acceptable, and, progressively, a preferred medium.

John Chamberlain was born in 1927 in Rochester, Indiana and died in 2011 in New York. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago (1951–52) and Black Mountain College (1955–56) and moved to New York in 1956. His work is represented in many major public collections including Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas; Menil Collection, Houston; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and Tate Modern, London. He had his first retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 1971, followed by more than one hundred one-person exhibitions, including Dia Art Foundation (1983); “John Chamberlain: Sculpture, 1954–1985,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1986); Staatlich Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (1991); “John Chamberlain: Sculpture,” Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1996); “John Chamberlain: Foam Sculptures (1966–79) and Photographs (1989-2004),” Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas (2005–06); “John Chamberlain: American Tableau,” Menil Collection, Houston (2009); “Chamberlain at the Fairchild,” Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables (2012–13); “ArtZuid,” Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2013); “John Chamberlain: It Ain’t Cheap,” Dan Flavin Art Institute, Dia Art Foundation, Bridgehampton (2013); “The Artist’s Studio: John Chamberlain,” Guild Hall, East Hampton, (2013). His most recent retrospective, “Choices,” was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2012. His work has been included in numerous international survey exhibitions, including Bienal de São Paulo (1961, 1994), Biennale di Venezia (1964), Whitney Biennial (1973, 1987), and Documenta 7 (1982).