John Chamberlain
John Chamberlain's Mermaidsmischeif

Note: This exhibit has passed.

The four large sculptures to be displayed at Fairchild are part of Chamberlain’s more recent works, having been created from 2008 to 2010. They will arrive at Fairchild fresh from exhibition at Seagram Plaza, 375 Park Avenue, NYC where they were displayed from August 16 to November 16, 2012. The Seagram building is considered one of the finest examples of the functionalist aesthetic and a masterpiece of corporate modernism. Chamberlain’s biomorphic works provided a stark contrast with the geometric shapes of this iconic Manhattan building. They are made of compressed and twisted industrial aluminum around an inner hollow metal core. They are finished with silver, green or copper color paint. The surface is reflective and texturized so the appearance is altered based on the weather and especially the amount of sunlight. These pieces began as Chamberlain experimented at home with household aluminum foil, which he twisted and shaped like rope and tentacles. His original experimentation with aluminum foil goes back to 1972. Eventually he moved to flexed industrial aluminum to create these eccentric biomorphic forms.

About John Chamberlain

John Chamberlain almost single-handedly gave automobile metal a place in the history of sculpture, smashing and twisting together a fusion of Abstract Expressionism and Pop sculptural forms created from fenders, fins, bumpers and hoods. He passed away on Dec 21, 2011 in Manhattan. Born 1927 in Indiana to a 5th generation saloon-keeper, he moved to Chicago at age 4 and was raised by his maternal grandmother. Although he aspired to be a classical musician, he realized that he didn’t have the talent so he enlisted in the US Navy in 1941 by saying that his age was 18 (he was only 16). After WWII, John entered the Art Institute of Chicago on the GI Bill. He constantly fought with his teachers so he left to become a hairdresser and make-up artist – also to meet girls (eventually he would marry 3 times). Hi continued his art studies at Black Mountain College, near Asheville, NC, where he made his 1st sculpture in 1957.

His initial inspiration was the work of David Roland Smith (1906-1965) – a New York abstract expressionist sculptor and painter, best known for creating large steel abstract geometric sculptures. Chamberlain moved to NYC and spent the rest of his career there. Having grown up around saloons, he loved to hang out with Abstract Expressionist and Pop artists at Max’s Kansas City bar and the Cedar Tavern in Manhattan. He lived a flamboyant life.

John Chamberlain's Robustfagotto

Throughout his career he would experiment with materials other than crushed automobile parts, materials such as urethane foam (see image left below), watercolor painting (see image right below), paper bags and other common materials, but he would always return to sculpting with crushed auto metals. He commented “I saw all this material just lying around against buildings, and it was in color, so I felt I was ahead on two counts.”

He was a close friend of Andy Warhol, who asked him to direct some films for him using his cadre of actors from the Factorystudio. Chamberlain directed 3 films in the late 1960’s including Wide Point and the cult-hit - The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez. All of the films featured actors frequently appearing in Warhol’s films - Taylor Mead and actress Ultra Violet.

He has a free-wheeling, improvisational attitude towards art-making by creating unexpected arrangements of color and form from recycled metals. He is best known for his works that are similar to the two images shown below. He referred to himself as an Assemblagist – creating unique works by welding together (fitting) various colors and shapes of industrial metal scrap.

In his career he achieved many honors. Chief among them were the exhibition entitled “Art of Assemblage” at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC (‘61) and the Venice Biennale (‘64). He received two prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships (‘66, ‘77) and had two retrospective exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC in 1971 and 2012. The image below is from the 2012 retrospective at the Guggenheim, “John Chamberlain: Choices”

Art at Fairchild is generously supported by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Lin Lougheed and Aaron I. Fleischman.