John Chamberlain - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips

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  • A play on words, John Chamberlain’s TAOIST TOAST, 1994, reflects the influence of poetry on the artist’s aesthetic approach. Employing “chosen,” not found, scraps of automobile parts for his tangled webs of meaning, the present work emphasizes the materiality of metal that is paramount to his sculptural practice. Not shying away from the use of color in all its forms, Toaist Toast gives color and pattern a new meaning in sculptural practice, no longer holding a secondary position to form. Renowned for his unconventional sculptural output, Chamberlain’s works are held in esteemed public collections like the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Tate Gallery, London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

    “In finding your place in sculpture, you need to find the material that offers you just the right resistance. As it turns out, car metal offers me the correct resistance so that I can make a form—not overform it or underform it.”
    —John Chamberlain

    First experimenting with car parts in 1956 and adopting them as his sole media in the mid-1970s, the artist’s sculptures use scavenged materials to explore the interplays of color, weight and balance. With its twists and turns, the present work seems to be almost suspended in time, creating a sense of energy that runs through the sheets of metal. Furthering the idea that something so gentle and elegant can possess such imposing weight, the present work combines sharp edges and soft curves. Privileging form over material, Chamberlain’s lyrical structures give otherwise discarded car parts a new life, using a variety of colors and patterns to enliven the cold metallic shapes that are created.


    A detail of the present work


    Drawn to the raw and dynamic energy of the Abstract Expressionists, TAOIST TOAST translates gestural painterly marks into three dimensions. Highly expressive, the present work in its folds and bends of metal evokes a spontaneity like the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. One of the first to synthesize the notion of action painting into sculpture, Chamberlain reexamines the ways in which sculpture are viewed and understood within the art historical canon.


    Cultivating his affinity for utilizing language in his art while a student at Black Mountain College, many of the artist’s works are tongue-twisters – diffused with hidden and double meanings. Influenced by poetry and its connections to art, many of his works are playfully named, with titles ranging from the literal to the fantastical. Exploring the ways in which language is interpreted in art, TAOIST TOAST possesses a deeper meaning than the abstract form which meets the eye. Drawing connections to Taoism – the belief that the body’s spirit joins the universe after death – the present work provokes contemplation. Works like this solidify Chamberlain as one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century.

    • Provenance

      The Pace Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Pace Gallery, John Chamberlain: Recent Sculpture, September 17—October 15, 1994, pp. 34-35, 45 (illustrated, p. 35)

    • Literature

      John Chamberlain: Current Work and Fond Memories, Sculptures and Photographs 1967-1995, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Amsterdam, 1996, p. 115 (The Pace Gallery, New York, 1994 installation view illustrated)
      Udo Brandhorst, Food for the Mind, exh. cat., Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst Munchen, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2000, p. 100
      Lynne Cooke and Michael Govan, Dia: Beacon, New York, 2003, fn. 4, p. 111
      Susan Davison, ed., John Chamberlain: Choices, New York, 2012, p. 221

Property from a Distinguished Collection



painted steel
73 x 83 x 80 in. (185.4 x 210.8 x 203.2 cm)
Executed in 1994.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $444,500

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023