John Chamberlain, sculptor of crushed cars, dies

John Chamberlain, whose hulking scrap-metal car sculptures blended pop art and abstract expressionism, died Wednesday at 84.


John Chamberlain, left, and Heiner Friedrich at the preview for "Dan Flavin:A Retrospective" at the National Gallery of Art in 2004. (By Melissa Cannarozzi for The Washington Post)

Though Chamberlain experimented with several media, he is best known for his scrap-metal sculptures, which were often painted brightly and twisted into shapes that belied the sculpture’s heft. As pop art, his work reflected America’s car culture, but the neutrality of the objects also exhibited many of the tenets of minimalism, and his use of color followed abstract expressionism. Chamberlain’s legacy eludes categorization, especially when his medium changes are taken into consideration. He experimented with a range of work from film to urethane foam.

“One day something — some one thing — pops out at you, and you pick it up, and you take it over, and you put it somewhere else, and it fits. It’s just the right thing at the right moment. You can do the same thing with words or with metal,” Chamberlain once said, according to the Guggenheim. Several of his works are in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, but none are currently on display.

Chamberlain’s 60-year career included exhibitions at the Venice Biennale and the Whitney Biennial, and his work is in the permanent collections of some of the world’s most prominent modern art museums. A retrospective is scheduled for spring at the Guggenheim in New York.


"S," 1959 by John Chamberlain at the Hirshhorn Museum (Ser Amantio di Nicolao, Creative Commons license for Wikipedia)

See an interview with Chamberlain — in which he advises people against becoming an artist like him — by Plum TV below:

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.

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