John Chamberlain Sculptures and Paintings
October 2023 through July 2024
“See, so there’s all these different variations on different material. … The stance, and the rhyme, and the tilt are all in there, but with various materials. But I went at the materials the way the materials evidently told me to. You squeeze one and you wad another, and you melt another…”[i]
—John Chamberlain, 1985
John Chamberlain (1927–2011) made his first works in three dimensions in the early 1950s. He began welding in 1953 and by 1958 introduced scrap metal from cars. 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.”[ii] Chamberlain’s self-termed “seven-year hiatus,” from 1965 to 1972, has often been described as an exploratory period during which he stopped using metal as his primary material. Yet, the artist’s entire career could be characterized by his attention to the peculiarities of the “different variations on different material” that he chose to experiment with—sheet metal, lacquer, Formica, foam, resin, Plexiglas, paper, fabric, film, and foil. Each variation in material provided an opportunity for intuitive and sensuous exploration, driven not by rationalistic structures or traditional forms but by chance, context, and the feeling of the fit.
This presentation of works by Chamberlain includes four of the artist’s sculptures in painted and chromium-plated steel made between 1976 and 1979 from the Chinati Foundation’s collection. Also on view are six paintings from 1964 in lacquer and reflective flake, with attached metal bars, on loan from Judd Foundation. In a 1972 interview for Artforum, Chamberlain described the process of building the layers of color in these paintings: “I was using auto lacquer—I really like to paint, too—and I like the procedures in which I use it. Those paintings had 100 coats of paint, but they were very thin coats, mostly a lot of clear lacquer with just a few drops of color. Whatever color you saw was just a build-up, like 100 sprayed veils made a single color.”[iii]
His technique of building layers of sprayed paint, similar to other methods of compression used in his sculptural practice, allowed him to explore color on a two-dimensional surface, while also projecting into space with the addition of the right angles in chrome. As Donald Judd noted in one of his many writings on Chamberlain’s art, “Chamberlain is the only sculptor really using color, the full range, not just metallic shades; his color is as particular, complex and structural as any good painter’s.”[iv]
Judd installed these paintings first at his home and studio in New York City, at 101 Spring Street, and later at his Architecture Office in downtown Marfa. Judd Foundation will reinstall these works in the Architecture Office upon completion of the restoration of the building.
At the John Chamberlain Building in downtown Marfa, twenty-three sculptures in chromium-plated steel; Barge Marfa (1983), a large foam couch; and the artist’s 1968 film The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez are permanently installed.
North wall (left to right):
- Gone to Marfa, 1977. Painted and chromium-plated steel. 76 × 23 × 29 in. (193 × 58 × 73 cm)
- Paddy’s Limbo, 1976–77. Painted and chromium-plated steel. 51 × 27 × 21 in. (129 × 68 × 53 cm)
- One Twin, 1979. Painted and chromium-plated steel. 65 × 55 × 26 in. (165 × 139 × 66 cm)
- Electric (Electra) Underlace, 1979. Painted and chromium-plated steel. 85 × 62 × 33 in. (216 × 157 × 83 cm)
South wall (left to right):
All paintings date from 1964 and are metal and lacquer with reflective flake on fiberboard, 68 ¼ × 68 ¼ × 5 in. (173.4 × 173.4 × 12.7 cm)
John Chamberlain Sculptures and Paintings was made possible with generous support from Lee Baumann Cohn, Patrick Collins, Mack Fowler, Judd Foundation, George Kelly, Ruth Stanton Foundation, and Noelle Reed.
[i] Susan Davidson, “A Sea of Foam, an Ocean of Metal,” in John Chamberlain: Choices (New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2012), 25.
[ii] Donald Judd, “Young Artists at the Fair and at Lincoln Center,” Art in America, August 1964, reprinted in Donald Judd, Complete Writings 1959–1975 (Halifax: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1975), 131.
[iii] Phyllis Tuchman, “An Interview with John Chamberlain,” Artforum 10, no. 6 (February 1972), 39.
[iv] Donald Judd, “In the Galleries,” Arts Magazine, March 1962, reprinted in Donald Judd, Complete Writings 1959–1975 (Halifax: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1975), 46.