Magazine article Artforum International

John Chamberlain: L & M Arts

Magazine article Artforum International

John Chamberlain: L & M Arts

Article excerpt

In spite of fashioning his sculptures from the twisted steel of junked cars, John Chamberlain has long distanced himself from the spectacular American history of the car crash: Gatsby, General Patton, James Dean, and, of course, Pollock. He has insisted that his works "are not car crashes" or even evocations of violence. Notwithstanding the Pop flair of his literal mash-ups of auto refuse, he has usually been linked instead to the Abstract Expressionists, a connection he has bolstered with musings like, "I prefer not to think about [car crashes and violence] as much as I think about the poetics and the processes." Still, even if Chamberlain's words may lure viewers into prioritizing color over content, poetics over interpretation, this doesn't change the reality that his autophilic sculptures of the '60s presciently anticipated an American appetite for vicarious, voyeuristic experiences of horror later mined by Warhol, Cady Noland, and the tabloid media.

Although "John Chamberlain: Early Years" reached back to 1960, the show's title was misleading. Several works dated from the '80s--more than fifteen years after Chamberlain's 1971 retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The most surprising pieces weren't the earliest but outliers like Rag Dolls, a 1965 painting made with auto lacquer and metal flake on Formica, or the touch of Tinguely in three collages with jagged bits of painted metal and steel exploding from a picture plane. Two object Oldenburg-like sculptures of carved industrial urethane foam were winning curiosities, but as when there is a massive Serra sculpture in a group show, it was hard to look beyond the room-dominating machismo of Chamberlain's giddily bombastic car pieces.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In a 1982 interview, Chamberlain spoke of the fetishistic satisfaction of working with junked steel: "The sexual decision comes in the fitting of the parts. …

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