John Chamberlain - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    PaceWildenstein, New York
    Private Collection, Europe

  • Exhibited

    New York, Lever House, John Chamberlain: Painted Steel Sculpture, June 14 – October 17, 1999

  • Catalogue Essay

    "I always liked the way that there was no subject matter…any time you go to look at these amazing things, they never seem to be the same.”


    One of the foremost sculptors of the twentieth century, John Chamberlain has singularly bridged Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, transcending the most influential artistic movements of the century in dynamic, three-dimensional form. The sweet, candy-coated colors of Chamberlain’s gestural, contorted steel assemblages bring to life the vibrant surfaces of Willem de Kooning and the vigor of Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock; Chamberlain engages his contemporaries through varied media and exploring the abstract idiom. Buoy Crazy, 1992, comprised of carefully manipulated crushed and twisted chromatic steel, is a remarkable manifestation of the gestural dynamism that characterized Chamberlain’s enduring career.

    Initially influenced by the abstract metalwork of David Smith, Chamberlain began his experimentation in sculpture with scrap metal and spare car parts in the early 1950s upon his arrival in New York art world. Almost immediately, he exhibited a preference for more voluminous, spatial forms than his early contemporaries and Chamberlain’s folded and twisted compositions started to echo the spontaneous yet structured work of the Abstract Expressionists. Later discussing the influence of the Abstract Expressionists upon his work, Chamberlain noted in 1990, “Kline gave me the structure; De Kooning gave me the color.” Indeed, the undulating, crushed components of Chamberlain’s creations are enhanced only by their polychromed surfaces. Stenciled, spray-painted and graffitied, these hot hues combine in a conscious transfiguration of everyday scrap metal into a symphony of abstract form and color; as the artist himself explained, “I think of my art materials not as junk but as garbage. Manure, actually; it goes from being the waste material of one being to the life-source of another.” (D. Getsy, “John Chamberlain’s pliability: the new monumental aluminum works,” Burlington Magazine, November 2011, p. 741)

    Buoy Crazy, 1992 is a quintessential example of Chamberlain’s masterful synthesis of gestural expression, playful form and vibrant color – a culmination of a lengthy and diverse career that demonstrated his intuitive sensibility for a reimagined beauty. The large-scale, painterly waves and sculptural voids created by the interlocking elements found in Buoy Crazy give birth to a rainbow-like spectrum of color and dynamic marriage of abstraction and appropriation. Draped in a careful yet visceral manner, each colorful component exists in symbiosis with the others, resulting in a lively, organic whole. Speaking of his innate sense and almost obsessive desire to fully realize his incomparable three-dimensional collages, Chamberlain explained, “See, so there’s all these different variations on different material, coming out looking like the sculptures that are what you might call the signature mark. The stance, and the rhyme, and the tilt are all in there…” (S. Davidson, “A Sea of Foam, an Ocean of Metal,” in John Chamberlain: Choices, 2012, New York, p. 25) From DaDa word play to the gestural brushwork of the Abstract Expressionists, Chamberlain derived inspiration from a variety of artistic movements, simultaneously realizing a rhythm entirely his own. Buoy Crazy is a monument to those manifold elements – a lyrical composition of raw beauty and dynamic form, mediated only by Chamberlain’s exquisite intuition.

    In his appropriation of such “waste material” and everyday media, Chamberlain too drew upon his Pop Art peers, reclaiming unused and unwanted car parts in an era that saw America’s industrialism largely exemplified by Detroit’s car industry. Transforming the mundane into the sublime, Chamberlain’s unintended commentary on the malleability of his chosen media – both in material and in concept – references the appropriation of the imagery of mid-century America’s popular culture by Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol. Revealing his concern with the reinterpretation of the quotidian, Chamberlain once described his sourcing process: “I wasn’t interested in the car parts per se. I was interested in either the color or the shape or the amount. I didn’t want wheels, upholstery, glass… none of that. Just the sheet metal. It already had a coat of paint on it, and some of it was formed… I believe that common materials are the best materials.”

    Rarely premeditated, Chamberlain’s assemblages rely upon the interaction of the various contorted elements, rather than their manipulation by the artist’s hand. He, like his Abstract Expressionist peers, rarely drew sketches or created maquettes in anticipation of his work; rather, Chamberlain carefully layered each misshapen element, gradually building depth and volume without permanently affixing one component to another before the completion of a fully-realized composition. As though developing a dialogue with each construction, the artist famously noted, “I'm more interested in seeing what the material tells me than in imposing my will on it.” Amid the apparent chaos, then, Chamberlain’s sculpture reveals a tension between order and happenstance, propelled by a virtuosic attention to balanced form.


Buoy Crazy

painted, chromium plated steel
85 x 55 x 48 in. (215.9 x 139.7 x 121.9 cm.)
This work has been recorded in the archives of the John Chamberlain studio.

$900,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $850,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 May 2014 7PM