Hauser & Wirth Somerset is proud to present John Chamberlain: Gondolas, showcasing two large-scale, floor-based works from the Gondolas series (1981 – 1982), a key group of Chamberlain’s sculptures, which has remained remarkably undiscovered. The full series comprises fourteen sculptures (including the large-scale related work ‘Dooms Day Flotilla’). Five of the Gondolas are in the collection of the DIA foundation in New York, NY and three are in the Chinati foundation in Marfa, Texas. Each of the Gondolas is named after an American poet or writer.
Known for his use of found and repurposed auto parts, dating back to the 1960s, Chamberlain used these contemporary, inexpensive materials to create lavishly coloured and layered sculptures. With its emphasis on paint finishes and the raw materials’ lines and seams, his work has been described as three-dimensional Abstract-Expressionist painting. Often misunderstood, Chamberlain had little interest in the material as subject matter; his concerns with the car parts were entirely practical, preferring the works to be viewed aesthetically – as sculpture.
Gondola Marianne Moore and Gondola Hart Crane are elongated structures, consisting of cut up truck frames as armatures, piled with pieces of cut, folded and crushed scrap metal; their horizontal floor-based configuration is reminiscent of the Venetian gondola. Chamberlain has taken advantage of the existing colour of each car fragment, and by spraying, stencilling, dribbling, graffitiing, and airbrushing layers of brilliant hues, onto the metal, he has created vivid, carnivalesque effects.
Chamberlain spoke often of the ‘right fit’ or ‘sexual fit’ as he joined piece-to-piece, interlocking steel bands and transforming them from cold anonymous parts, into a living mass. Klaus Kertess describes the sculptures as ‘engaged in intimate play by his (Chamberlain’s) hands in a kind of trial and error mating dance, continuing until two shapes are compatibly joined – and then another is coaxed to participate and then another, in a kind of agitated visual orgy….Seldom has sculpture so physically embodied the free associativeness and combinative play so crucial to creative thinking visually and verbally.’
Chamberlain’s titles rarely make direct reference to the form or content of the individual work. Assigning specific hidden codes or establishing definitive meanings is not the intention. His naming of the Gondolas was a tribute to his favourite writers, whose work he first encountered whilst a student at Black Mountain College. His teachers included poets Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, and Charles Olson; Chamberlain considered that his years at the college were the greatest influence on his work. Whist there, he began writing his own poems, arranging words and fragments that he had collected from various sources, into new configurations – a method he later likened to his sculptural work: ‘There is material to be seen around you every day. But 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. I guess that’s part of my definition of art. Art is a peculiar madness in which you use other means of communication, means that are recognisable to other people, to say something that they haven’t yet heard, or haven’t perceived, or had repressed.’
Marianne Moore, a recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and the National Book Award, was one of the foremost American poets of the Twentieth Century. Her work is characterised by a joy in vernacular language, emotional candour, and acute observations of people, places, animals, and art. As the editor of several of the most important poetry journals, and as an enthusiast for modern art, she would have been well-known to Chamberlain, and his Black Mountain College teacher, Charles Olson.
Hart Crane is a pivotal figure in American literature, and he is regarded as both the quintessential Romantic artist and the embodiment of those extreme characteristics – hope and despair, redemption and damnation – that seemed to preoccupy many writers in his time. After battling depression and career disappointments, during a sea voyage between Mexico and the United States he finally took his own life, by leaping into the Gulf of Mexico. Chamberlain’s ‘Gondola Hart Crane’ can be seen in part as a memorial to Crane’s watery end.
About the Artist
John Chamberlain was born in 1927, in Rochester, Indiana. From 1943 – 46 he served in the U.S. Navy. He attended The Art Institute of Chicago, 1951 – 52, before studying at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, 1955 – 56. His first major solo exhibition was held at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, in 1960. His work was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1961 group exhibition, ‘Art of Assemblage’, and during that same year he participated in the São Paulo Bienal. In 1964, his work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale. In the 1960s as well as making sculpture from car parts, Chamberlain also experimented with other mediums including foam, fibreglass, latex and plexiglass. In 1971, he had a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. His next major retrospective was in 1986 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. In 1993, Chamberlain received both the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine, and the Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture from the International Sculpture Centre, Washington, D.C. He was elected a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York in 1990 and received the Distinction in Sculpture Honour from the Sculpture Center, New York, in 1999. He died in Manhattan in 2011.
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Please join us for this free tour of Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Director Alice Workman will lead a guided tour of the galleries, including the new Pipilotti Rist exhibition and the John Chamberlain and Richard Tuttle presentations. This is a free event, however advanced booking is…
Join us for the opportunity to view the current exhibitions in a private view just for teachers. You will also get the chance to collect the latest resources produced to support school visits to Hauser & Wirth Somerset. We hope the session will provide the opportunity…