Photo by Angelo Piccozzi. Artwork © John Chamberlain. All rights reserved.
During his lifetime, John Chamberlain was perhaps best known for his distinctive metal sculptures constructed from discarded automobile-body parts and other industrial detritus, which he began making in the late 1950s. While freely experimenting with other materials—from galvanized steel and paper bags to Plexiglas and urethane foam—he consistently returned to metal car components, which he humorously termed “art supplies.” 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. Chamberlain's focus on discovered or spontaneous correlations between materials has prompted the interpretation of his work as a kind of three-dimensional Abstract Expressionism.
Rooted in industrial fabrication, the formal elements of Chamberlain’s work draw emphasis to the physicality of his process. Raw materials were often imparted with preliminary form by mechanical car crushers and then crumpled, crushed, bent, twisted, painted, and welded to form individual objects which were then further manipulated to compose assemblages. These multidimensional collages—from large floor sculptures to more intimate, interlocking arrangements—express an unwavering elegance, exuding both the strength and the fragility of everyday materials.
John Chamberlain was born in 1927 in Rochester, Indiana, and died in 2011 in New York. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago from 1951 to 1952, and Black Mountain College, North Carolina, from 1955 to 1956. Chamberlain’s first retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1971) was followed by more than one hundred solo exhibitions, including “John Chamberlain: Sculpture, An Extended Exhibition,” Dia Art Foundation, New York (1982–85); “John Chamberlain: Sculpture, 1954–1985,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1986); “John Chamberlain,” Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (1991); “John Chamberlain: Sculpture,” Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1996); “John Chamberlain: Foam sculptures (1966–79); Photographs (1989–2004),” Chinati Foundation, Marfa (2005–06); “John Chamberlain: American Tableau,” The Menil Collection, Houston (2009); “John Chamberlain: CURVATUREROMANCE,” Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2011); “Choices,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2012); “John Chamberlain: It Ain't Cheap,” Dan Flavin Art Institute, Dia Art Foundation, New York (2014); and “John Chamberlain,” Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (2015). 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).
“John Chamberlain: Foils,” an outdoor installation of two monumental aluminum foil sculptures, is on view at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, New York through October 2018.