The distinctive metal sculptures of John Chamberlain, often fashioned from crushed automobile and industrial steel, are quintessential expressions of the power of innovation in post-war American art. Following three years in the US Navy during World War II, Chamberlain returned home to study art at the Art Institute of Chicago and then at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He moved to New York in 1956, though he lived and worked across America throughout his career, moving between Manhattan, Long Island, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Connecticut, and Sarasota, Florida before finally settling on Shelter Island. As early as 1957, Chamberlain began incorporating automobile parts into his sculptures, and continued to use this material over the course of his career. In the late 1960s, Chamberlain also experimented with galvanized steel, urethane foam, and mineral-coated Plexiglas, but returned to the almost exclusive use of automobile parts in the mid-1970s. Crunching and twisting scrap metal into elegant and harmoniously balanced sculptures, Chamberlain's works reveal the dignified beauty and the expressive plasticity of industrial materials. His works moreover evoke the energy of Abstract Expressionism, with its emphasis on the relationship between color, weight, and balance, mingled with the elevation of prefab elements found in Pop art and Minimalism, as well as allusions to the lusciously folded draperies of Baroque painting.
Text courtesy Robilant+Voena.
An idiosyncratic show combining the work of two geniuses who used metal in new if nearly opposite ways needs to be carefully balanced. Displaying 12 crushed car-body sculptures by the American sculptor John Chamberlain in and around two prefab structures by the French architect-designer Jean Prouvé doesn’t quite do the trick.