The Syllabus

John Chamberlain

John Chamberlain: A Retrospective Exhibition

Diane Waldman
Published in 1971
104 pages, fully illustrated

In 1971, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum organized the first museum retrospective for the artist John Chamberlain, whose work transformed the strengths of Abstract Expressionism into a three-dimensional form through the use of industrial materials. The mid-career exhibition, curated by Diane Waldman, included 109 sculptures, displaying both his iconic works made from automobile parts and his recent explorations in aluminum, foam, galvanized steel, and Plexiglas. The exhibition catalogue includes an installation photograph of Chamberlain’s innovative show at the Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles (1966), as well as an extensive array of color and black-and-white photographs of his sculptures. Waldman’s introduction to the catalogue discusses the artist’s influences in great detail, and is followed by a selection of excerpts from a conversation between Chamberlain, former editor of Art in America Elizabeth C. Baker, artist Donald Judd, and Waldman. An extended bibliography and a list of works exhibited are also included in the catalogue.


From the crushed automobile parts to the more recent galvanized metal and plexiglas works, Chamberlain started with structures that were hollow and retained this characteristic, even when he crushed them into other forms. His sculpture, while singular and massive, has no center but is hollow (just as traditional sculpture was built from an armature out). This phenomenon is, in itself, extraordinary, for it subverts traditional concepts of form even to the extent of parody. As Chamberlain has pointed out, he has started with a structure not unlike that of an empty cigarette pack and its subsequent form is always keyed to this initial decision.

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