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V. S. Gaitonde, Untitled, 1962 (detail)

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In capturing the essence of his materials—by stressing the limpid but mysterious glimmer of light-reflecting surfaces, the raucous color of the crushed automobile, or the bellied fullness of foam, John Chamberlain has stopped just short of excess. It is Chamberlain's intention to use the appearance of things—as chaotic as they may seem—to reveal their inherent order. Only if we understand this phenomenon can we appreciate the beauty of his work.
—Diane Waldman, John Chamberlain: A Retrospective Exhibition


Between his experiences as a trained hairstylist, learning to fly his father's plane at the young age of 11, joining the navy as an underage teenager, and attending the experimental Black Mountain College, it is safe to state that the artist John Chamberlain (b. 1927, Rochester, Indiana; d. 2011, New York) led an adventurous life. Exploring unusual materials, questioning the status quo of sculpture, and managing to successfully translate the strengths of Abstract Expressionism into a three-dimensional form, Chamberlain found a medley of color, scale, collage, and "fit."

In 1971, the Guggenheim Museum organized the artist's first museum retrospective, highlighting not only his well-known sculptures made from automobile metal, but also his recently created works in foam, Plexiglas, aluminum, and galvanized steel. Organized by former Guggenheim curator Diane Waldman, John Chamberlain: A Retrospective Exhibition was accompanied by an exhibition catalogue, whose introductory essay, written by Waldman, provides insight into Chamberlain's background, his influences, and his process. Highlighted within the catalogue, along with a color and black-and-white plate section, are excerpts from a colorful conversation among Chamberlain, Waldman, artist Donald Judd, and former Art in America editor Elizabeth C. Baker.

Forty years later, in spring 2012, Chamberlain's work has returned to the Guggenheim for the exhibition John Chamberlain: Choices, organized by Susan Davidson, Senior Curator, Collections and Exhibitions, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Davidson's exhibition catalogue delves further into Chamberlain's life and artistic practice, exploring his unusual materials, shifts in scale, and bold color choices to contextualize his stated guiding principle: "It's all in the fit." John Chamberlain: Choices presents five essays; an extensive, full-color plate section; a comprehensive chronology of the artist's life and work; and an illumination on an assortment of Chamberlain's complex and often humorous titles.

John Chamberlain seated among his materials in his studio, 53 Greene Street, New York, 1964. Photo: Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs

Required Reading

John Chamberlain: A Retrospective Exhibition

Diane Waldman
Published in 1971
104 pages , fully illustrated
Softcover
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John Chamberlain: Choices

Edited by Susan Davidson with contributions by Donna De Salvo, Dave Hickey, Helen Hsu, Adrian Kohn, Don Quaintance, and Charles Ray
Published in 2012
240 pages with 210 color illustrations
Hardcover and softcover, 9 1/2 x 11 1/4 inches
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More from the Museum

John Chamberlain: Choices microsite

John Chamberlain in the Collection Online