In finding your place in sculpture, you need to find the material that offers you just the right resistance. As it turns out, car metal offers me the correct resistance so that I can make a form—not overform it or underform it.
John Chamberlain’s (1927–2011) distinctive metal sculptures, often made of crushed automobile steel, reveal both the stately grace and the expressive plasticity of industrial materials. Exploring the interplay of color, weight, and balance, Chamberlain tapped into the energy of Abstract Expressionism, the premanufactured elements of Pop art and Minimalism, and the provocative folds of the High Baroque.
In the mid-1940s Chamberlain spent nearly three years aboard an aircraft carrier while serving in the US Navy. Traveling through the Pacific, Mediterranean, and Atlantic greatly influenced his sense of scale and viewpoint. Following his return to the United States, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (1951–52) and then at Black Mountain College in North Carolina (1955–56), where he fostered a keen appreciation for poetry and began to consider language as an integral part of his aesthetic approach.
Chamberlain moved to New York in 1956 and the following year made Shortstop, his first sculpture incorporating automobile parts. He continued to use this material, revealing the seemingly infinite formal potential of the shining chrome, flaking paint, hard edges, and voluminous folds. In 1961 his innovations led to his inclusion in the Art of Assemblage at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where his sculptures were shown alongside Futurist, Surrealist, and Cubist works.
At the end of the 1960s Chamberlain began to incorporate galvanized steel, urethane foam, and mineral-coated Plexiglas into his work. Despite the physical differences of these materials, Chamberlain was consistent in his approach, constantly searching for the right “fit” and rearranging compositions until they “locked into place.”
Chamberlain returned to the nearly exclusive use of automobile parts in the mid-1970s, expanding his technique by cutting and painting the metal. Seeking a larger studio space with higher ceilings where he could expand the scale of his work, he moved from New York to Sarasota, Florida, in 1980. There he made the Gondolas (1981–82), long, low works often displayed in pairs or groups on the floor, like abstracted boats floating in a row. For the Giraffe series (c. 1982–83), he sandblasted painted car metal, removing the color in patterned, linear strips to reveal the raw surface beneath.
Chamberlain’s dynamic spatial abstractions extended beyond sculpture into film, photography, prints, paintings, reliefs, masks, and more. The Barges (1971–83), huge foam couches, form plush terrains in which visitors are invited to lounge. His colorized panoramic photographs, which he began in 1989, made using a moving camera, create abstracted scenes that the artist called “self-portraits of [his] nervous system.”
In 2007 Chamberlain began transposing miniature models crafted from aluminum foil into monumental outdoor sculptures. The resulting works, four of which were on view outside the Seagram Building, New York, in 2012, maintain the lightness, directness, and spontaneity of the fragile original models despite their stable, balanced forms. Some of the last works that Chamberlain made in his lifetime, the foil sculptures—with titles such as FROSTYDICKFANTASY (2008) and PINEAPPLESURPRISE (2010)—bring together the whimsical humor, technical mastery, and dynamic expression that run throughout the artist’s sixty-year career.
Extended through February 5, 2022
Stance, Rhythm, and Tilt
September 28, 2021–February 5, 2022
West 21st Street, New York
Extended through June 1, 2018
April 17–June 1, 2018
Davies Street, London
Uncanny Delights: Sculpture by John Chamberlain, Urs Fischer, and Charles Ray
Catalyzed by the exhibition Crushed, Cast, Constructed: Sculpture by John Chamberlain, Urs Fischer, and Charles Ray, Alice Godwin examines the legacy and development of a Surrealist ethos in selected works from three contemporary sculptors.
In Foil Adventures: John Chamberlain’s Late Works in Aluminum, Corinna Thierolf discusses how, starting in the mid-1960s, the artist investigated and perfected working with this material.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2018
The Spring 2018 Gagosian Quarterly with a cover by Ed Ruscha is now available for order.
Patrick Seguin: Chamberlain and Prouvé
Two twentieth-century heavyweights collide in a show of works by John Chamberlain and Jean Prouvé in New York. Derek Blasberg talks to Patrick Seguin about Prouvé and design on the occasion of the exhibition.
Zona Maco 2022
February 9–13, 2022, booth B115
Centro Citibanamex, Mexico City
Gagosian is pleased to announce its return to Zona Maco México Arte Contemporáneo for the first time since 2018; significantly, this is also the gallery’s first in-person art fair of 2022. Gagosian is presenting a specially curated selection of dynamic paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by iconic figures long associated with the gallery, juxtaposed with works by key contemporary artists. Many of the featured artists are being represented at Zona Maco for the first time.
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (November), 2020 (detail) © Rachel Whiteread. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.
Crushed, Cast, Constructed
Sculpture by John Chamberlain, Urs Fischer, and Charles Ray
Thursday, July 23, 2020, 12pm EDT (5pm BST)
Join Gagosian for a virtual tour of Crushed, Cast, Constructed: Sculpture by John Chamberlain, Urs Fischer, and Charles Ray, an exhibition on view at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London, through July 31. Gagosian’s Alice Godwin will discuss the three artists’ divergent sculptural processes, examining their individual approaches and identities with respect to materials and methods. To join, register at zoom.us.
Charles Ray, Tractor, 2003–04 © Charles Ray, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery
Thursday, March 5, 2020, 6:30pm
Gagosian, Britannia Street, London
Join Gagosian for a tour of the group exhibition American Pastoral. The show juxtaposes modern and contemporary works with historical American landscapes ranging from Albert Bierstadt’s depiction of the sublime in Sunset over the River (1877) to Edward Hopper’s tranquil seaside scene, Gloucester Harbor (1926). Gagosian’s Alice Godwin will focus on a select grouping of exhibited works that seek to challenge the idealized vision of the American Dream that has long been a rich topic of inquiry for artists in the United States. To attend the free event, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited.
Installation view, American Pastoral, Gagosian, Britannia Street, London, January 23–March 14, 2020. Artwork, left to right: © Theaster Gates, © Adam McEwen, Thomas Moran, © Richard Prince, © Banks Violette, © Ed Ruscha. Photo: Lucy Dawkins