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John Chamberlain's First Presentation In Switzerland

Hauser & Wirth hosts its first exhibition of John Chamberlain's (1927–2011) work in Switzerland.

Chamberlain was a distinctly American artist who channeled the postwar period's revolutionary power into a six-decade-long practice of endlessly imaginative practice.

Back in 1964, Chamberlain represented the United States in the American Pavilion at the 32nd International Exhibition of the Venice Biennale.

Installation view, ‘John Chamberlain. Reclaimed’ at Hauser & Wirth Zurich, Bahnhofstrasse1, until 21 May 2022 © 2022 Fairweather & Fairweather LTD / Artists Rights Society (ARS),New York. Courtesy the John Chamberlain Estate and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jon Etter.

He received many awards during his life, including a Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa, from the College for Creative Studies, Detroit (2010); the Distinction in Sculpture Honor from the Sculpture Center, New York (1999); the Gold Medal from The National Arts Club Award, New York (1997); the Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture by the International Sculpture Center, Washington D.C. (1993); and the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture, New York NY (1993).

Chamberlain has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including two major retrospectives at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York NY in 2012 and 1971.

'John Chamberlain. Reclaimed' will feature a group of five late sculptures made from the bodies of discarded mid-century cars from Kaufdorf, Bern. The colorful fingerprint of the era can be seen on these antique Cadillacs, Fords, Buicks, and Chevrolets. Chamberlain uses discarded materials from a historic and valued place to return to his sculptural roots in mostly black, white, and silver.

Reclaiming disposed from nature

In 2008, Chamberlain came across an auction in Kaufdorf, Bern, of historic cars collected by the Messerli family.

CHAMBERLAIN JOHN- Vintage cars in the Franz Messerli auto-graveyard in Kaufdorf, Bern, 2009Erik and Petra Hesmerg and More Gallery Courtesy Fairweather & Fairweather LTD and More Gallery.

Described as an ‘auto graveyard’, the empty shells of vintage cars were stacked in endless rows and consumed by the forest, left to the unsparing will of nature for almost 80 years. Along with friend, collector, and collaborator Ernest Mourmans, Chamberlain acquired the bodies of dozens of 1940s and ’50s automobiles, ‘yanking motors out of them, and the transmissions and the brakes and the suspensions, the glass, all the wheels, the upholstery’.

Chamberlain was particularly drawn to American-made cars as they had separate chassis, which could be easily removed, leaving the shells to be conquered.

The artist then worked with crushers and other tools to compact the large sheets of the remaining metal into entirely new, expressionist forms.

Chamberlain first gained renown for his sculptures constructed from automobile scrap metal in the late 1950s and 1960s. These were ground-breaking works that effectively transformed the gestural energy of abstract expressionist painting into three dimensions. Beginning in the 1970s, he began to experiment with an array of other found materials such as foam rubber, Plexiglas, paper bags and aluminium foil. These playful explorations often informed his work with automotive scrap metal—his ideal ‘art supply’—which continued throughout his career. The late works on view in Zurich explore the formal and full expressive potential of this once abandoned industrial material. While some series of works employed metals which were augmented with colour and pattern by Chamberlain, this series derives its palette entirely from the original paint finish applied to the metals from these mid-century cars.

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