John Chamberlain, 1927-2011

John Chamberlain. Chili Terlingua, 1972-1974, from a group of ten sculptures constructed on a ranch near Amarillo, Texas, between 1972 and 1975 and loosely named after towns and counties throughout the state. The works were purchased by the Dia Art Foundation and given to the Chinati Foundation in 1986.

Art - regardless of when it was made - is one of the few things in the world that is never boring, and, it costs nothing. You don't have to own it, you just have to perceive it; art is free. As an artist I give away more than I would if I ran a beauty shop.
                                  John Chamberlain, 1982

What an odd thing to choose as an alternative to being an artist – a beauty shop.  Chamberlain started working with car bodies in the late 1950s: new world collages of the built-in-obsolescent auto industry rather than in the tradition of European collagists whose work was, by the 1960s, inevitably browned and archival looking: the tram tickets of Schwitters, the futurist fascination with machine parts drafted by Duchamp.  When the  crash of car hoods and crushed doors appeared with Chamberlain, it all looked new and very American.  The earliest pieces are often rusted – cars found in fields, but later in the 60s and 70s when cars were beautifully enamelled in candy colours, these crushed car assemblages took on a painterly quality.

At the Chinati Foundation, the collection of old buildings and workshops in Marfa, Texas founded by Donald Judd in the mid -1980s to exhibit his own work and that of Dan Flavin and Chamberlain, there is a permanent building of Chamberlain's sculptures.  They tilt, they lean, they surge like Rodin's Burghers of Calais. They are noisy with parts and colours.  Chili Terlingua, above, lives there.