John Chamberlain Sculptures and Photographs from the Permanent Collection

Four polychrome sculptures by John Chamberlain from the late 1970s project from one wall of the special exhibition building. Made of junked metal, these works hold the very space between abstract painting and relief sculpture that made Chamberlain such a pivotal artist. As Donald Judd wrote in 1964: “John Chamberlain was the first to use automobile metal and to use color successfully in sculpture. He introduced the developments of American expressionism into sculpture and challenged the prevailing idea of sculpture as a solid mass.”

Traditionally, sculpture takes shape through acts of carving or casting. But Chamberlain crushed, folded, tack-welded, jammed, fit, and balanced his relatively lightweight materials, which came with their own eccentric forms, to build sculptures that enclose volumes of air. In so doing, he added another gesture to painting. The term relief comes from the Italian word relievare, meaning “to raise”: for Chamberlain, stance was paramount when it comes to how art exists in the world.

The twenty photographs that line another wall of the building display a lesser-known aspect of Chamberlain’s art. Starting in the 1970s, alongside his friend the artist Larry Bell, Chamberlain began taking pictures using a Widelux camera. The camera’s mechanical swing lens captures a panoramic image, like a roving eye or very short film. Chamberlain, however, didn’t look through the viewfinder: “The Widelux has a lens that you don’t have to focus. It’s just exposure and time.” Holding the camera in front of his body, he took pictures that ripple with movement and swimming light, while simultaneously locating the artist “at someplace that I like.” Hotel rooms, restaurants, bars, and the studio appear to be favorite haunts. 

This exhibition coincides with Chinati’s recently completed restoration of the John Chamberlain Building, where a permanent installation of the artist’s sculpture also includes a video installation of his 1968 underground film The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez. Visitors may view it, as the artist intended, from atop a massive foam sculpture, Barge Marfa (1983), which he carved in situ. 

Chamberlain’s photographs and sculptures from the permanent collection may also be viewed from a unique vantage point. Sarah Crowner’s Platform (Blue Green Terracotta for JC) occupies over two thousand square feet of the special exhibition building with a raised wooden platform covered in handmade tiles. Sparkling blue, this site-specific installation, commissioned by Chinati, historically conjures an unrealized work by John Chamberlain (aka JC)—his project for an underwater ceramic sculpture installation in an abandoned swimming pool on Chinati’s grounds.


Donald Judd’s quote on Chamberlain appears in “Young Artists at the Fair,” Art in America, August 1964, and can be read in the Chinati Foundation newsletter, volume 11. This volume’s focus on Chamberlain was occasioned by the 2005 exhibitions at Chinati of his foam sculptures and photography, accompanied by a 2006 symposium on his art.

John Chamberlain’s quotes on his photography appear in Donna De Salvo’s essay “Portrait of a Nervous System: Chamberlain’s Photography and Film” in It’s All in the Fit: The Work of John Chamberlain, published by Chinati in 2009. 

To read Amy Sillman and other contemporary artists on Chamberlain’s work, see the Chinati Foundation newsletter, volume 17.   

To read about the restoration of the John Chamberlain Building and the artist’s unrealized swimming pool project, see the Chinati Foundation newsletter, volume 27.


Gone to Marfa, 1977. Painted and chromium-plated steel. 76 x 23 x 29 in. (1.93 x .58 x .73 m)

Electric (Electra) Underlace, 1979. Painted and chromium-plated steel. 85 x 62 x 33 in. (2.16 x 1.57 x .83 m)

One Twin, 1979. Painted and chromium-plated steel. 65 x 55 x 26 in. (1.65 x 1.39 x .66 m)

Paddy’s Limbo, 1976—77. Painted and chromium-plated steel. 51 x 27 x 21 in. (1.29 x .68 x .53 m)

20 photographs, taken with a Wide-Lux camera,

C-prints, each 20 x 24 inches,

Printed in an edition of 9

  • Untitled, 1989, numbered 1/9
  • Me in Paris, 1989, numbered 1/9
  • Untitled, 1989, numbered 1/9
  • Brasserie De Lutetia, 1989, numbered 6/9
  • Red — a/k/a — Yves La Coupole, 1989, numbered 3/9
  • Untitled, 1989, numbered 1/9
  • Studio Lite XIII, 1989, numbered 6/9
  • Untitled, 1990, numbered 6/9
  • Flores Awning, 1990, numbered 8/9
  • Untitled, 1991, numbered 1/9
  • Untitled, 1991, not numbered
  • Le Foyer, 1991, numbered 1/9
  • Studio in Sarasota, 1994, numbered 1/9
  • Untitled, 1995, numbered 3/9
  • Untitled, 1997, not numbered
  • Untitled, 1997, not numbered
  • Untitled, 1999, numbered 1/9
  • Untitled, 2001, numbered 3/9
  • Untitled, 2001, numbered 5/9
  • Untitled, 2002, numbered 1/9

All photos by Alex Marks.