The Upper East Side’s Guggenheim Museum is honoring American Abstract Expressionist sculptor John Chamberlain with a retrospective exhibition until May 13th. Chamberlain, who recently passed away, had the innate ability to transform disused cars into sculptures that appear to be feather-light. The incredible exhibition highlights a comprehensive collection of the artist's work from the 1950s to his last works made in 2011.
Chamberlain’s sculptures are essentially recycled, squished cars. The vibrantly colored elements of heavy metal were removed from cars made during a time before automobiles were made from streamlined plastic. Instead, one can see the clunky and heavy fenders, thick doors and solidity of the metal used to make automobiles in a time before the weight of a vehicle was taken into consideration due to concerns of fuel efficiency. Describing his sculptures as creative re-use, many simply saw them as junk when he began using cars as material in the mid 1950s.
But the world finally accepted Chamberlain’s vision, and he soon became one of the world’s most renowned artists to use recycled materials. For many years up until his death in December 2011, Chamberlain worked in a studio on Long Island, acquiring vintage car scraps and bending them into incredibly heavy sculptures which see to defy gravity. Treating metal like fabric, he had the impressive ability to make metal gently fold like drapery. This treatment calls to mind the traditional study of sculptural drapery in marble sculpting, a practice dating back to the ancient Greeks.
Chamberlain’s sculptures are now in museums across the globe, and namely in the permanent collection at Dia Beacon, located a short train ride upstate. Visitors will experience a real treat, with the large chronological collection of his work arranged around the spiraling floor plan of the Guggenheim.