John Chamberlain - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips
  • "His ability to make roundness into color and color into roundness, pushing the two into an overall unity, is without equal."
    —Klaus Kertess on Chamberlain’s practice
    Formidable in size and teeming with vivacious colors, John Chamberlain’s The Vagabond’s Prayer, executed in 1992, is the product of decades of experimentation with steel car parts. Acquired more than 25 years ago and coming from an important New York Estate, the present work is an exceptional example of the artist’s late body of work, when Chamberlain began utilizing lighter auto-parts to create more intricate and layered sculptures. The striking vigor and voluminous form of this work retains the ethos of earlier examples, while its nimble design and bold colors, are a testament to Chamberlain’s prolonged investigation and emblematic use of the medium.




    Radical Experimentation: Materials and Color


    The artist’s interest in the unconventional medium of auto parts materialized in 1957 when Chamberlain created Shortstop, a sculptural work composed entirely of pieces obtained from a rusting 1929 Ford that was parked in fellow artist Larry Rivers’ yard. Marking a significant departure from the artist’s earlier linear sculptures, inspired by David Smith, which characterized his oeuvre until the late 1950s, the car, and its various steel components, became the artist’s primary medium in 1958. The frenetic energy inherent in Chamberlain’s later sculptures was enabled by lighter and thinner steel parts that the artist began to employ in the 1990s. Far more malleable than the auto body parts that Chamberlain had used in his previous sculptures, the greater pliability of the lighter steel components afforded the artist greater artistic freedom. The effect of this radical change in Chamberlain’s artistic practice is readily apparent in the ragged edges of The Vagabond’s Prayer. Unlike the stout sculptures that defined his oeuvre up until this point, the curved design of the steel fragments that compose this work take on the appearance of gestural swathes of paint. The painterly quality of The Vagabond’s Prayer is enunciated by the vivid range of colors that Chamberlain applied to the metal car parts. While bold colors had been largely dispelled from modernist sculpture of the late 20th century, Chamberlain broke these monochromatic barriers by applying bright pigments to the steel parts in many of his later works.

    "His surprising juxtapositions of elegance with brute force offer a brilliant three-dimensional counterpoint to paintings by Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline." 
    —Mark Rosenthal

    Abstract Expressionist Roots


    The Vagabond’s Prayer is a quintessential example of Chamberlain’s unwavering desire to translate the tenets of Abstract Expressionist painting into three-dimensional forms. The gestural dynamism and appearance of spontaneity that Chamberlain conveys through the convoluted car parts in this work is rooted in the visual vocabulary of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Much like the action painters who worked in an improvisatory manner, Chamberlain’s procedure of salvaging and subsequently welding car parts into sculpture was a spontaneous and action-based process. The bold, energetic painterly style employed by Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning provided Chamberlain with a source of inspiration that informed the animated design of his celebrated car sculptures. The jagged edges in de Kooning’s painting Excavation, 1950, which Chamberlain saw repeatedly at the Art Institute of Chicago, are echoed in the crushed and curved auto body parts of The Vagabond’s Prayer.  Chamberlain’s liberated exploration with paint and color manifests itself in the bold, graffiti-like tones of yellow, red and green that bring this sculpture to life.



    Willem de Kooning, Excavation, 1950. Art Institute of Chicago
    Willem de Kooning, Excavation, 1950. Art Institute of Chicago, Image: The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    • Provenance

      Pace Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Pace Gallery, John Chamberlain: Recent Sculpture, September 17–October 15, 1994, pp. 24–25, 45 (illustrated, p. 25)

    • Literature

      Klaus Kertess, Anette Grant and Dave Hickey, John Chamberlain, Cologne, 2008, pp. 186-187, 290 (illustrated, p. 187)

Property of an Important New York Estate


The Vagabond's Prayer

painted steel
60 x 58 x 47 in. (152.4 x 147.3 x 119.4 cm)
Executed in 1992.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $378,000

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022