John Chamberlain, Sculptor of Smashed Cars, Dead at 84

12/22/2011 8:59 AM |

John Chamberlain, HAWKFLIESAGAIN (2010).
  • John Chamberlain, “HAWKFLIESAGAIN” (2010).

John Chamberlain, the American sculptor whose immense, muscular yet often surprisingly delicate sculptures were made from smashed, scrunched and crumpled cars, died yesterday at age 84. Born in Rochester, Indiana in 1927, and raised in Chicago, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago and Black Mountain College in the 50s before rising to prominence in the art world. A major retrospective of his work is scheduled to open in February at the Guggenheim, where, in 1970, the first retrospective of his work was presented.

In addition to his best known work with crinkled car parts, Chamberlain has worked in painting, polyurethane, photography and melted Plexiglas, but he remains best-known for his large-scale metal sculptures made from junked automobiles.

As the Timesobituary puts it, Chamberlain “almost singlehandedly gave automotive metal a place in the history of sculpture, smashing and twisting together a poetic fusion of Abstract Expressionism and Pop from fenders, fins, bumpers and hoods.”

Moving to New York from Chicago in 1956, Chamberlain quickly became a fixture of the painter-driven Abstract Expressionist movement and scene. Especially formative early influences included Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning. In 1964 he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. He remained prolific up until his death on Wednesday in Manhattan, with a show of new work this past spring at Gagosian (his gallery as of this year, after two and a half decades with The Pace Gallery). He spent many of his final years living and working on Shelter Island with his wife Prudence Fairweather, who announced his death of unknown causes.

Here’s a great video of Chamberlain and his assistants installing his show at Gagosian in May (NSFW language).


(ArtForum; Image courtesy John Chamberlain / Artists Rights Society; Photo: Mike Bruce)

2 Comment

  • What a great video, it catches the essence of an ornery old jerk. “NO NO NO…I DON’T GIVE A SHIT…NO NO NO…blah blah blah.” What a crazy old man, recognized for his scrappy “art” work, but his legacy will be rejecting his orphaned granddaughter, the beautiful Jasmine Chamberlain. Now, she is no phoney, and could care less about anything other than making the world a better place. Unlike this nut, who only cared about his scrappy garbage. People can be such kiss butts, glorifying him for this tasteless crap. May God have mercy on his soul, and mine for being so harsh, but he proved during his time on earth that his crazy obsessions were paramount, and he trashed his little angel granddaughter by not even paying for her funeral. Shame on him. I hope someday he will see (in spirit at least) the selfishness of his life. Good riddance…if I knew where his grave were, I would spit on it for what he did not do for this beautiful granddaughter of his. He even had the nerve to suggest she was not his…a DNA test would have proved this. In denying the bloodline, he called Jasmine’s mother a liar as well, and as long as her memory lives on in my heart, I will defend her honor.

  • Correction: He refused to pay for his daughter in laws funeral, she died suddenly at age 32 of an aneurysm…leaving behind a beautiful 11 year old brilliant orphan, Jasmine.