John Chamberlain (1927-2011) is most known for his Abstract Expressionism-inflluenced sculptures made of scrap metal, crushed automobile parts, and industrial materials.
Born in Rochester, Indiana, Chamberlain served in the Navy during World War II and then studied at the Art Institute of Chicago on the GI Bill. Later he studied poetry and sculpture at the renowned Black Mountain College, where he developed his ideas around visual language, and then moved to New York City in 1957.
That year, Chamberlain was inspired to create his first automobile sculpture, Shortstop, using a 1929 Ford Pie Wagon at his friend Larry Rivers’s house in Southampton, New York. He pulled off the fenders and drove over them with his car, then twisted and welded the metal together with steel rods. He focused almost exclusively on cars from 1959 to 1963, but had a career-long interest in everyday objects and exploring material. For several years he created paintings using automobile lacquer, but added materials such as foam rubber, plexiglass, and paper, then returned to his earlier method of producing crushed forms. He was influenced by sculptor David Smith in the use of welded and sheet forms in the construction of his work. In addition to his sculptures, Chamberlain created video art, which, like the automobiles, depicts common, recognizable items from daily life.
In 1993 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture from the International Sculpture Center. His major exhibitions include the 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 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), and two major retrospectives at the Guggenheim Museum (1971, 2012). Chamberlain's work can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Art.