John Chamberlain - Contemporary Art Part I New York Thursday, May 17, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Allan Stone Gallery, New York; Private collection, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    “When I saw David Smith’s work, it didn’t remind me of anything, and that was the key. It was like: America, we have arisen,” (John Chamberlain, in interview with Henry Geldzahler, John Chamberlain, New York, 1992).

    In an attempt to position the artist’s work in the scope of twentieth-century sculpture, the present lot exemplifies many of the most engaging and attractive characteristics of those that comprise the sum of Chamberlain’s contribution to the format. Untitled, 1962 is widely representative of his most enduring bodies of work: the compact overall scale evokes the artist’s sculptures in urethane foam blocks, bound with cord, as well as his one-piece aluminum foil crumples, crushed into themselves as a paper ball. The multi-pieced construction found in the present lot, however, and the energy and motion implied in the interaction of its parts, make reference to his iconic verticals and many of the artist’s larger wall-hanging and floor standing works. The work is intensely and intentionally colored, in parts, but also raw or left in a natural state elsewhere, while many of his other sculptures expressly inhabit only one extreme or the other. Chamberlain’s steel works additionally represent a middle road between historical, ‘natural’ material-driven sculpture, where the medium is hewn from virgin resources and the resulting mass refined carefully by hand, and much contemporary sculpture, which often appropriates mechanically produced ‘raw material’ in whole form; Chamberlain effects a concerted, mechanical destruction of a carefully manufactured product. It is the tolerances of an elegantly controllable medium like sheets of uniform, even-gauged steel that, slavishly acceptant of color and command, make works like the artist’s best known possible. No other material is so plastic and simultaneously so strong, able to support, with very little thickness or mass, frozen movement in all directions at once. Like a permanent explosion, works like the present lot also strike a balance between action and serenity.

    What can it be thought that works like many of Chamberlain’s are attempting to do? To reference the artist’s statement above, perhaps they were are arising from shackling representation, and simultaneously embracing newly available mechanical and industrial means and materials. Counting painters like Franz Klein and Willem de Kooning among this most important early influences, along with, sculptor David Smith, Chamberlain came to sculpture at a time when it was trying to do something, and to put behind it, so to speak, Ad Reinhardt’s oft-repeated saw: that sculpture is what you bump into when you back up to look at a painting.

    Because of its total involvement with a consumer product on a physical level, and a thoroughly proletarian one at that, a further level of dialogue is entered into. This level is additional to those populating the most commonly held for abstract sculpture: the out-and-out physical beauty of the object, of its suggestiveness and emotiveness in the face of anti-anthropomorphist leanings. But the work is made of cars: physical manifestations of status and desire for most of the last century, as well as expressions of technological achievement, thereby attracting the United States’ hearts and minds. The works are, however, ingenuously acquired piecemeal parts, cast-off, and unwanted. The underlying tenor there of ecology, to say nothing of recycling, prefaced and later reflected--with commentary--a significant and ongoing social transformation of the last fifty years. It is easy to image it considered in the burgeoning minimalist sculptural environment of the 1960’s alongside artists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Mark di Suvero, that it was odd that Chamberlain not begin his work with stock, ‘unpurposed’ factory-made steel, as that was a time of abundant use of material. Neither did he seize the means of production for creative purposes, in the manner of Richard Serra. His tendency is not particularly geometric, by comparison to enduring works by other minimalists, but neither is it especially organic, as might be said of another additive sculptor like Eva Hesse.

    “I mean, it’s changed,” Chamberlain has commented: “A hundred years ago there were statues. Now, there’s sculpture. A difference I see is that statues are made by artisans who can carve out something that everybody wants—sort of like commercial art—like an illustrator. In modern art, it’s the artist’s sanity that we’re looking at…” (ibid). The works, however, are unapologetically beautiful. This does not dull their purpose, or degrade their trajectory ideologically, but rather continues the works’ trend overall toward an absolute center, the effect finally one of harmony between intention and results.



Painted and chromium-plated steel.
29 x 28 x 34 in. (73.7 x 71.1 x 86.4 cm).

$700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for $1,384,000

Contemporary Art Part I

17 May 2007
7pm New York