John Chamberlain


John Chamberlain (b. 1927, Rochester, Indiana; d. 2011, New York City) is an American artist known for creating large-scale assemblages from discarded industrial detritus. Chamberlain created works by spraying, stenciling, dribbling, and airbrushing layers of brilliant colour onto steel. His early work is considered to be quintessentially American, uniting sweet rose and cerulean pastel enamels with Detroit’s hard industrial steel. In the early 1950s Chamberlain began to make flat, welded sculptures influenced by the work of David Smith. The energy, force and spontaneity of his later works increasingly suggested the influence of the Abstract Expressionists, chiefly artists Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning. His choice of material and blurring of boundaries between sculpture and painting challenged traditional notions of sculpture, and defined a significant shift in its modern history. His work uniquely reconciled Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Pop art, fusing references to consumerism with standardised, manufactured products. During the 1960s, Chamberlain executed a series of geometric paintings with sprayed automobile paint and tied urethane foam sculptures before incorporating melted Plexiglas into his crushed metal sculptures in the 1970s. Chamberlain also worked with photography and video, his film The Secret Life of Hernanda Cortez (1968) becoming a cult classic.


Chamberlain attended the Art Institute of Chicago (1951–52), before studying at Black Mountain College, North Carolina (1955-56). His first major solo exhibition was held at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, in 1960. In 1961, Chamberlain’s work was included in The Art of Assemblage at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, an important survey exhibition of artists working with collage. Chamberlain showed frequently at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and in 1964, was exhibited at the Venice Biennale. In 1971, a Chamberlain retrospective was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. His next major retrospective was in 1986 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. In 1993, Chamberlain received both the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture, from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine, and the Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture from the International Sculpture Centre, Washington, D.C. He was elected a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York in 1990 and received the Distinction in Sculpture Honour from the Sculpture Center, New York, in 1999.

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