Photo by Angelo Piccozzi. Artwork © John Chamberlain. All rights reserved.
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, New York. From 1951 to 1952, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, and from 1955 to 1956, he attended Black Mountain College. North Carolina. Recent solo exhibitions include The Menil Collection, Houston (2000, 2009); The Center for Public Sculpture, New York (2000); Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2005); Chinati Foundation, Texas (2005); Dan Flavin Art Institute, Dia Center for the Arts, New York (2007, 2013); Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2011); Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Florida (2012); Guggenheim Museum, New York (2012); Guild Hall, East Hampton, New York (2013); and Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Scotland (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).