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John Chamberlain (1927-2011) was born in Rochester, Indiana. He served in the United States Navy as seaman first class during World War II. After the war, he enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago on the GI Bill. Later he studied poetry and sculpture at Black Mountain College where he developed his ideas around visual language.

 

In the late 1950s while visiting a friend, he was inspired to pull off the fenders of an old car and run them over with his car, then twist and weld the metal together with steel rods, thereby creating the famous piece Shortstop. Throughout the 1960s he continued to explore materials such as pigments, paper, cardboard, fabric staples, aluminum foil, and scrap metal. Chamberlain was compelled to work with materials that could be compressed or wadded up and manipulated easily with his hands. This lead him to working with urethane foam abandoning works in metal for nearly 7 years.

 

Over the last three decades of Chamberlain’s career, the artist pursued ever more diverse variations of his signature “fit” that featured aggressive conjunctions of shape and color. The sculptures have deep folds that many perceive as resembling the folds of Renaissance sculpture, signaling the presence of a figure or void. Toward the end of his life, he was making some of the largest works of his entire career—assemblages of horizontal and vertical crushed metal from 1940s and 1950s automobiles, pursuing his perennial artistic ethos: “It’s all in the fit.”

 

Chamberlain passed away in 2011, after a career spanning six decades. He exhibited throughout the United States, Europe, and Latin America, with major exhibitions at Martha Jackson Gallery, New York (1960), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1960), the Bienal de São Paulo (1961), the Venice Biennale (1964), the Cleveland Museum of Art (1967), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1971), Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (1976), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1986), the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1993), and Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2005), as well as two major retrospectives at the Guggenheim Museum (1971, 2012). Chamberlain’s sculptures are on permanent display at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, and Dia:Beacon in upstate New York. He received numerous awards during his life, including the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture (1993), the Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture from the International Sculpture Center, Washington, DC (1993), the Gold Medal from the National Arts Club, New York (1997), a Distinction in Sculpture award from Sculpture Center, New York (1999), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Guildhall Academy, East Hampton, New York (2007).

 

This biography was sourced from johnchamberlain.co