John Chamberlain - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, May 16, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Lorraine Chamberlain, Essex
    Thordis Moeller, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1982

  • Exhibited

    New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, John Chamberlain, March 27 - April 17, 1976
    Sarasota, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, John Chamberlain Reliefs 1960-1982, January 28 - March 27, 1983, p. 41 (illustrated)
    Geneva, Gagosian Gallery, John Chamberlain: Poetic Form, September 7 - November 3, 2016
    New York, Gagosian Gallery, John Chamberlain: Masks, September 19 - October 28, 2017

  • Literature

    Julie Sylvester, John Chamberlain, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954-1985, New York, 1986, no. 509, p. 142 (illustrated, titled Chamouda)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed at the height of his career in 1975, John Chamberlain’s large-scale, wall-bound sculpture Chamooda is a stellar example of the artist’s signature practice. By 1971, the year of his first retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Chamberlain had already established himself as the foremost contemporary sculptor of the era. Following an exploratory period in his career beginning in 1965 when the artist began utilizing different materials including found objects, steel boxes, Plexiglas and foil, Chamberlain returned to car parts in the early 1970s, this time more selective in his use of specific elements including bumpers, hoods, roofs and the chassis. The sculptures from this decade were characterized by a more ambitious use of color, achieved by both scraping away existing pigments on the car parts and also adding new hues with active, abstract brushstrokes. In the present lot, a green car part in the upper left is splattered with fiery red paint, while the diagonal lower elements of the work are solid yellow and purple. Extending from the upper left through the central axis of the form, Chamberlain has left the chrome surface of the chassis alone, which in turn reflects the colors of the adjacent elements. The resulting form is a vibrant relief sculpture, projecting into space from the wall on which it is hung.

    The present lot was shown alongside five other works from the same period in Chamberlain’s seventh solo exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery, the year after its execution in 1976. All but one of these sculptures are oriented at a 45 degree angle, a new format for the artist’s wall-bound reliefs. The clean white walls on which these sculptures rested helped to heighten the color and textural contrasts within the forms. As Dave Hickey espoused, “In most cases, Chamberlain’s work works best indoors, where the frisson of automotive intrusion is most transgressive, where its intellectual meanings and somatic ambiance overwhelm its daily, functional references.” (Dave Hickey, “John Chamberlain: Steel Couture” in Susan Davidson, John Chamberlain: Choices, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2012, p. 32) To further emphasize the depth of these inner meanings present in the sculpture, Chamberlain chooses the word “chamooda” for the work's title, translating loosely to "sweetie" in Hebrew and so named for his second wife, Lorraine, who first owned the work. Known for his intense curiosity in language, Chamberlain would often select single words at random for his titles, based on the way they looked on a page. “I began keeping lists of words that caught my eye…I didn’t particularly understand the words other than whether I liked the look of them, as they were printed…words with a lot of vowels in it or something, you know. They always look like eyes” (John Chamberlain, quoted in Bonnie Clearwater, “Oral history interview with John Chamberlain, Sarasota, Fla.”, January 29-30, 1991, Washington D.C., p. 24). The present lot’s title is thus rooted in both an emotional and a visual connection for the artist, further elevating the work’s aesthetic complexities.

    Five years after the execution of Chamooda, Chamberlain relocated his studio and home to Sarasota, Florida alongside artists including James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg, both of whom, too, chose the southern state for a new work setting. This marked a pivotal time in Chamberlain’s practice when he continued to explore newfound surface qualities of automotive parts and fit them together in new and innovative ways, spearheaded by his early 1970s works like the present lot. In 1983, Chamooda was exhibited for a second time at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in his new hometown of Sarasota, marking the artist’s second major American museum exhibition since the 1971 retrospective at the Guggenheim.

    Over five feet in height, the present lot is thus an important work from a pivotal moment in Chamberlain’s prolific career, beautifully showcasing the aesthetic qualities most important to the sculptor. As the artist once summarized, “You have a fit, and you have a form, and you have a color. And so all of these three parts are…They’re having a good time together, if you put them together well.” (John Chamberlain, quoted in Klaus Kertess, “John Chamberlain in Conversation with Klaus Kertess”, Chinati Foundation Newsletter 11, Marfa, October 2006, p. 17)



painted and chromium-plated steel
65 x 69 x 23 in. (165.1 x 175.3 x 58.4 cm.)
Executed in 1975.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $795,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2018