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John Chamberlain (sculptor)

John Chamberlain
S, metal, 1959, in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Born (1927-04-16)April 16, 1927
Rochester, Indiana
Died December 21, 2011(2011-12-21) (aged 84)
Manhattan, New York City, NY
Nationality American
Education Art Institute of Chicago, Black Mountain College
Known for Sculpture
Notable work

in museums:

Movement Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada
Patron(s) Leo Castelli

John Angus Chamberlain (April 16, 1927 – December 21, 2011[1]) was an American sculptor. At the time of his death he resided and worked on Shelter Island, New York.[2]


  • Early life and career 1
  • Work 2
  • Exhibitions 3
  • Collections 4
  • Recognition 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Quotes 7
  • Art market 8
  • Private life 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Early life and career

Born in [6] Over the course of his prolific career, he had studios in New York, New Mexico, Florida, Connecticut, and finally Shelter Island.[7]


Chamberlain is best known for creating sculptures from old automobiles (or parts of) that bring the [8] By 1957, while staying with the painter Larry Rivers in Southampton, New York,[9] he began to include scrap metal from cars with his sculpture Shortstop,[10] and from 1959 onward he concentrated on sculpture built entirely of crushed automobile parts welded together. Far more than just another wrinkle on assemblage Shortstop and subsequent works completely reinvented modeling casting, and volume altering Marcel Duchamp’s notion of the readymade and using the car as both medium and tool.[11]

By the end of the 1960s, Chamberlain had replaced his signature materials initially with galvanized steel, then with mineral-coated Plexiglas, and finally with aluminum foil. In 1966, he began a series of sculptures made of rolled, folded, and tied urethane foam.[12] Since returning in the mid-1970s to metal as his primary material, Chamberlain has limited himself to specific parts of the automobile (fenders, bumpers, or the chassis, for example).[13] In 1973, two 300-pound metal pieces by Chamberlain were mistaken for junk and carted away as they sat outside a gallery warehouse in Chicago.[9]

In the early 1980s, Chamberlain moved to [6] Many of the subsequent works Chamberlain made in Florida revert to more volumetric, compact configurations, often aligned on a vertical axis. As seen in the so-called Giraffe series (circa 1982–83), for example, linear patterns cavort over multicolored surfaces—the results of sandblasting the metal, removing the paint, and exposing the raw surface beneath.[5] In 1984, Chamberlain created the monumental American Tableau created for display on the Seagram Building's plaza.[14]

Chamberlain also made abstract colour paintings from 1963, and from 1967 he made several films, such as "Wide Point" (1968)[8] and “The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez,” filmed in Mexico with Warhol regulars [15]


Chamberlain’s first major solo show was held at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, in 1960.[15] His singular method of putting discarded automobile-body parts together led to his inclusion in the paradigmatic exhibition “Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.[18] From February 24 to May 13, 2012, shorty after the artist's death, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum showcased "John Chamberlain: Choices", a comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work. The exhibition examined the artist’s development over his sixty-year career, exploring the shifts in scale, materials, and techniques informed by the assemblage process that was central to his working method. [19]

A special exhibition of Chamberlain's foam sculptures and photographs was on view at the Chinati Foundation in 2005-06.[20] Chamberlain supposedly has a work of art on the moon in the Moon Museum.


Chamberlain's 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; Tate Modern, London;[16] Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna; Museum Brandhorst, Munich; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Saint Louis Art Museum; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.[21]



In 1962 Donald Judd wrote, "The only reason Chamberlain is not the best American sculptor under forty is the incommensurability of 'the best' which makes it arbitrary to say so."[23]


Speaking about the "meaning" of his work he has said "Even if I knew, I could only know what I thought it meant.”

In allusion to how he worked he has said “When a sculpture is nearly done, you can put things on and you take them off and it doesn’t make any difference…"

And, “Stopping is the key; you have to know when to stop. If I feel so glad that a sculpture is here, and I don’t care who did it, then I figure it’s a good piece.”[24]

Art market

In 2011, Chamberlain's Nutcracker (1958) from the Allan Stone Estate sold at auction for $4.7 million, more than twice its high $1.8 million estimate and a record price for the artist at auction.[25]

Chamberlain has been represented by Gagosian Gallery since 2011.[9] Before joining Gagosian, he was represented by The Pace Gallery from 1987 to 2005 and Leo Castelli from 1962 to 1987.

Private life

In 1996, Chamberlain married Prudence Fairweather, Dan Flavin’s former assistant.[26] In 2000, he built a 72-by-82-foot studio on Shelter Island.[26]



  1. ^
  2. ^ Chamberlain, Guggenheim Museum, retrieved 2008-04-25 
  3. ^ Christopher Knight (December 23, 2011), John Chamberlain dies at 84; American sculptor Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ Randy Kennedy (May 8, 2011), A Crusher of Cars, a Molder of Metal New York Times.
  5. ^ a b John Chamberlain Dia Art Foundation.
  6. ^ a b , March 19 – August 2, 2009American TableauContemporary Conversations: John Chamberlain, Menil Collection, Houston.
  7. ^ Nicholas Weist, John Chamberlain (1927-2011) Interview Magazine.
  8. ^ a b John Chamberlain Tate Collection.
  9. ^ a b c d Randy Kennedy (December 22, 2011), John Chamberlain, Who Wrested Rough Magic From Scrap Metal, Dies at 84 New York Times.
  10. ^ John Chamberlain Dia Art Foundation.
  11. ^ Klaus Kertess(1986) John Chamberlain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954 – 1985, New York, Hudson Hills 29 pp
  12. ^ John Chamberlain L&M Arts, New York/Los Angeles.
  13. ^ Press Release: Guggenheim Presents Retrospective Devoted to Career of John Chamberlain Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  14. ^ John Chamberlain: Seagram Building, August 10 - November 16, 2012 Gagosian Gallery, New York.
  15. ^ a b John Chamberlain Guggenheim Collection.
  16. ^ a b John Chamberlain: New Sculpture, May 20 - June 18, 2011 Gagosian Gallery, London.
  17. ^ a b John Chamberlain Biography, ARTINFO, 2008, retrieved 2008-04-22 
  18. ^ a b John Chamberlain Gagosian Gallery
  19. ^ "John Chamberlain: Choices". © 2013 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (SRGF). All rights reserved. 
  20. ^ John Chamberlain: Foam sculptures (1966–1979); Photographs (1989–2004), October 2005 - June 2006 Chinati Foundation, Marfa.
  21. ^ Art in Embassies: John Chamberlain U.S. Department of State.
  22. ^ International Sculpture Center website. 'Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award' webpage. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
  23. ^ John Chamberlain: Early Years, May 5 - July 10, 2009 L&M Arts, New York.
  24. ^ Art & Design; New York Times; John Chamberlain, Who Wrested Rough Magic From Scrap Metal, Dies at 84
  25. ^ Carol Vogel (May 9, 2011), Art From Allan Stone Estate Is a Big Draw at Sotheby’s New York Times.
  26. ^ a b Bob Colacello (January 2000), Studios by the Sea Vanity Fair.

More references

  • Busch, Julia M., "A Decade of Sculpture: the New Media in the 1960s" (The Art Alliance Press: Philadelphia; Associated University Presses: London, 1974) ISBN 0-87982-007-1

External links

  • NY Times, 12/29/11Two Artists Who Embraced FreedomRoberta Smith,
  • NY Times, obituary
  • Gagosian Gallery
  • The Pace Gallery
  • John Chamberlain in the National Gallery of Australia's Kenneth Tyler Collection
  • Guggenheim Museum biography
  • biography and literature
  • Chinati Foundation
  • John Chamberlain at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels
  • John Chamberlain biography and analysis at The Art Story Foundation
  • John Chamberlain at DASMAXIMUM KunstGegenwart
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