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 Times‘ obituary 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)