Contemporary Conversations: John Chamberlain, American Tableau
John Chamberlain, American Tableau
John Chamberlain American Tableau, 1984 Paint, chromium-plated steel
144 (12') x 252 (21') x 132 (11'), The Menil Collection, Houston
August 2, 2009
Born in Rochester, Indiana, in 1927, John Chamberlain grew up in Chicago, Illinois. After serving in the United States Navy during World War II, Chamberlain studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1951–1952 and Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina from 1955–1956. The following year, he moved to New York, where for the first time he created sculpture that included scrap-metal auto parts. He used these found metal pieces as raw materials, shaping them at will, adding paint, and welding the finished compositions to preserve their stability. Despite the heavy and rather unyielding character of such material, Chamberlain’s work often achieves a lyrical quality-colorful, anthropomorphic, somehow lighter on its feet than one would expect.
The dismantled and reshaped auto body quickly became Chamberlain’s signature sculptural medium. Although he eschewed the material for a period starting in 1967, he resumed its use in 1974 and continues to work in this media at present. In the early 1980s, Chamberlain moved to Sarasota, Florida, where a more spacious studio enabled him to work on a much grander scale than he previously had. There he produced large-scale sculpture such as The Menil Collection’s American Tableau, 1984.
John and Dominique de Menil first acquired a drawing by Chamberlain in 1968, adding sculptures and works on paper throughout their lifetimes. When the museum opened its doors in 1987, American Tableau was among the 23 Chamberlain sculptures on display in an inaugural exhibition curated by founding director Walter Hopps.
John Chamberlain, American Tableau is the third in The Menil Collection series, “Contemporary Conversations,” which highlights work by living artists in the collection. The series aims to work with the artist to focus on a specific aspect or time period of their production. American Tableau will present a single large-scale sculpture as a room-size installation accompanied by rare examples of the artist’s drawings.