For over fifty years, John Chamberlain (b. 1927) has been constructing welded metal sculptures using crumpled and distorted automobile parts. In a recent New York Times interview, Chamberlain wished his claim to fame was having a drink with Billie Holiday, though it is his innovative, “articulate wadding” that has earned him international acclaim. After studying sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago and Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina in the 1950s, he began working primarily with car parts. He recalls, “It was like, God, I finally found an art supply, and it was so cheap it just made you laugh.” In 1961, the same year he was invited to participate in the São Paulo Biennale, his sculpture was included in an important survey exhibition, The Art of Assemblage at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The influential Leo Castelli Gallery in New York began showing Chamberlain’s work in 1959, and Chamberlain had a solo show there in January of 1962.
As he continued to construct the large-scale automobile sculptures that became his trademark, Chamberlain experimented with some of the same materials in smaller, mixed media relief sculptures. Untitled (1962) is a complex tangle of rusted metal scraps exploding from a canvas of stapled brown paper. Its willful disorder evokes Chamberlain’s early experimentation with poetry at Black Mountain College, where he explored the visual combination and structure of the words on the paper, and is characteristic of his continually evolving engagement with the process of assemblage.
Chamberlain was honored with major retrospectives at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 1971, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1986, and the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Germany in 1991. Now 84, he is still creating massive, mangled sculptures at his Shelter Island, New York studio with the help of Belgian fabricators. A career-spanning exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is slated for 2012. Chamberlain is currently represented by Gagosian.
– Paul Des Marais, Contributing Writer
Mixed media relief on panel
Signed and dated lower right;
Leo Castelli, New York label verso.
Relief: 12” x 12” x 5”;
With mount: 17” x 17” x 7.25”
Provenance: Leo Castelli , New York;
Betty Asher, Los Angeles (acquired from Castelli in 1962); Private Collection, Los Angeles (acquired from Asher c 1970).
December 11, 2011 Important Modern Art & Design Auction
Cohen, David. “The Probity of Modernism: Collages by John Chamberlain and Alfred Leslie.” Artcritical.com. Art Critical, 12 Nov. 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.
“John Chamberlain.” Guggenheim Museum. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2011. Web. 30 Sept. 2011.
Kennedy, Randy. “A Crusher of Cars, a Molder of Metal.” Nytimes.com. New York Times, 8 May 2011. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.