John Chamberlain - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'The definition of a sculpture for me is stance and attitude. All sculpture takes a stance. If it dances on one foot, or, even if it dances while sitting down, it has a light-on-its feet stance.' —John Chamberlain

    Energetic, playfully animate, and strikingly anthropomorphic, Ramwater Sweets is a particularly vibrant example of American sculptor John Chamberlain’s ability to transform inert everyday materials into dynamic sculptural assemblages. Always highly experimental in his approach to materials, the self-proclaimed ‘recyclist’ first started working with wrecked automobile parts in 1957, forging a careful balance between the gestural immediacy of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism’s emphasis on industrial fabrication, and the vibrancy of Pop that he would continue to refine over an impressive six-decade career. Executed in 2002, the attractively sized Ramwater Sweets is highly characteristic of Chamberlain’s most compelling work, its distinctive candy-coloured ribbons of twisted and folded chromium plated steel producing the voluminous sense of form and highly expressive dynamism for which he is most revered.

     

    Futurism and Forms in Motion

     

    'Every material has a different density, different weight […] 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

    Ranking amongst some of the most iconic sculptural works of the post-war period and distilling something quintessentially American in his adoption of repurposed automobile parts, Chamberlain’s careful balance of rhythm and movement and the expressive plasticity of his practice also draws on a long tradition of European sculpture. Strikingly beautiful, the crenulated surfaces of Ramwater Sweets generate a remarkable fluidity that recalls the folded drapery and dramatic intensity of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s high Baroque masterpieces, combined with a sense of machinic form and explosive energy developed by the Italian Futurists at the dawn of the 20th century.

     

    [Left] Gian Lorenzo Bernini, L'Estasi di Santa Teresa (Ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila), 1647-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Image: NPL - DeA Picture Library / Bridgeman Images [Right] Umberto Boccioni, Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space), 1913, Museo del Novecento, Milan. Image: akg-images / De Agostini Picture Lib. / G. Cigolini
    [Left] Gian Lorenzo Bernini, L'Estasi di Santa Teresa (Ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila), 1647-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Image: NPL - DeA Picture Library / Bridgeman Images
    [Right] Umberto Boccioni, Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space), 1913, Museo del Novecento, Milan. Image: akg-images / De Agostini Picture Lib. / G. Cigolini

     

    Although Chamberlain does not celebrate or fetishize the automobile in quite the same way as his Futurist forebears, his commitment to it as a material rooted in 20th century modes of production certainly resonates with the aims and interests of the Italian Futurists. As in Umberto Boccioni’s defining symbol of the Machine Age, Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio, Chamberlain’s sculptural assemblages speak to the ways in which technology permeates the body, and of sculpture’s privileged ability to respond to this, a point emphasised with Chamberlain’s inclusion in the recently opened group exhibition Future Bodies from a Recent Past – Sculpture, Technology, and the Body since the 1950s held at the Museum Brandhorst in Munich. For Chamberlain, as for Boccioni, a core conceptual problem of sculpture lies in not only in how to extract intense physicality and sense of kinetic energy from static form, but of how to address sculpture’s disruptive relationship to the space surrounding it, artfully managed in the smaller-scale Ramwater Sweets

     

    Chromium Plated Colour

     

    Although Chamberlain did expand his repertoire to include a range of other materials including plexiglass and galvanised steel, his sculpted automobile parts remain his most immediately recognisable and beloved works. An integral part of Chamberlain’s practice, colour was initially dictated by these prefabricated materials sourced from local scrapyards, although when he returned to the automobile with renewed focus in the 1970s, the artist began adding colour to the twisted junk metal as we can see in Ramwater Sweets. Sandblasting the original paintwork from the metal, Chamberlain juxtaposed a variety of vivid pastel hues and bright primary colours against bare areas of polished chrome. Firmly committed to colour throughout his career, the artist explained ‘I never thought of sculpture without colour. Do you see anything around that has no colour? Do you live in a world with no colour? […] All sculpture had colour, even if it was rust colour or just dull green or something’.i

     

    For Chamberlain, colour was also intimately linked to the kind of dynamic energy he wanted to capture in his sculptural works, reflected both in the active chemical reactions occurring between his materials, and the synergy between movement, gesture, and colour typically associated with Abstract Expressionist painting. It is on these grounds that Chamberlain is often identified as the first artist to extend the painterly experiments of mid-century Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock ad Willem de Kooning into three dimensions, developing a pioneering mode of three-dimensional collage bursting with energy and expressive plasticity. 

     

    [Left] Willem de Kooning, Gotham News, 1955, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. Image: Albright Knox Art Gallery/Art Resource, NY/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © Willem de Kooning Revocable Trust/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022 CAPTION: [Right] Detail of the present work
    [Left] Willem de Kooning, Gotham News, 1955, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. Image: Albright Knox Art Gallery/Art Resource, NY/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © Willem de Kooning Revocable Trust/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022
    [Right] Detail of the present work

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    • Internationally renowned for his twisted metal sculptures and experiments with other industrial materials, examples of John Chamberlain’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Tate Collection in London.


    • Over the years major retrospectives of Chamberlain’s work across a range of media including photography, film, sculpture, and painting have been held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Since his death in 2011, Chamberlain has been the subject of several solo exhibitions, the most recent of which has been Hauser & Wirth’s John Chamberlain: Reclaimed, which opened in Zurich in March 2022. 
     

    i John Chamberlain, in Phyllis Tuchman, ‘An Interview with John Chamberlain’, ArtForum, February 1972, online 

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    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

18

Ramwater Sweets

painted, stainless and chromium-plated steel
101.6 x 114.3 x 91.4 cm (40 x 45 x 35 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2002.

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Estimate
£150,000 - 200,000 

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Kate Bryan
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Olivia Thornton
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022