John Chamberlain (1927-2011)

John Chamberlain is best known for his large-scale metal sculptures created from industrial automobile parts.


Born in Rochester, Indiana in 1927, Chamberlain grew up in Chicago, where he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1951 to 1952. Three years later, he attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He moved to New York in 1956, and it was here that he first began to use crushed scrap metal as the material for his sculpture. Assembling, welding, twisting, and painting these industrial parts, Chamberlain forged a new form of sculpture, transforming a ubiquitous, banal material into gleaming, boldly colored, abstract works of art. Standing between readymade sculpture and an industrial, minimalist object, these breakthrough works led to Chamberlain’s inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal 1961 group exhibition, Art of Assemblage, an important international survey of artists working with collage in two and three dimensions. Many have observed that Chamberlain’s metal sculptures fused the slick consumerism of Pop art and the subjective spontaneity of Abstract Expressionism.

As his career progressed, he worked with other, often more malleable mediums and materials, including two-dimensional paintings made with automobile paint, urethane foam sculptures (both in the 1960s), and crushed metal and melted Plexiglas sculptures (in the 1970s).


Chamberlain had his first retrospective in 1971 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. His sculptures are held in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas; Dia:Beacon, New York; Pompidou Center, Paris, and Museum Ludwig, Cologne.


John Chamberlain died in New York in 2011.